Weston commissioners back away from public health orders


NEWCASTLE — The Weston County commissioners took a stand against COVID-19 health orders by voting 2-1 on Sept. 1 to rescind the chairman’s signatures from state/county health orders presented by Dr. Mike Jording, the county’s health officer. 

The county has experienced an increasing number of COVID-19 cases over the past month, according to Wyoming Department of Health website. 

At the time of the vote, the commissioners stated that a quorum of the board was considered three commissioners per state statute so decisions could be made by vote, although they maintained throughout the discussion that it would be preferred to have a full board, and in the end made the decision without two commissioners present.

Weston County did not have a positive case until June; to date the county has added 13 to the total number of cases, a majority of those in the last month, according to information from the department. As of Sunday, the department of health had the county listed as four active cases of COVID. 

Chairman Ed Wagoner and Commissioner Tracy Hunt voted to rescind the signatures, while Commissioner Marty Ertman voted against the motion citing the absence of commissioners Nathan Todd and Tony Barton. The commissioners seemed to favor drafting a resolution similar to the one in Goshen County that declares all businesses essential and requests a variance to the health orders for the entire county. 

“The resolution asks that the governor respect the individual people’s rights to make their own health care decisions,” Hunt said of the proposed resolution. He noted that while it does not have any weight legally, the resolution makes a statement about the position of the Weston County commissioners concerning the handling of the pandemic. 

“I think it is important that the governor knows that there are people who may not be very vocal but are unhappy with the direction that the public health officers have taken,” Hunt said. 

Hunt, who voted against signing the health orders originally, explained that he has been a skeptic since the beginning. 

“You can count me as a skeptic since early on, and I have become increasingly opposed. I come just short of calling it a scam or a hoax,” Hunt said. “I do think there is a virus and people are sick. I think there is a demographic that should pay attention.” 

But, the government’s action should be proportional to the threat and that in this situation nothing is measuring up, Hunt said. He noted  the carnage, including suicide, increased unemployment, mental health issues, economic decline and mass closures, caused by the shutdown is worse than the virus, in his opinion. 

 “I think it is important that the governor know from as many as possible that they are not happy with the direction of his intervention,” Hunt said. 

While expressing support for the overall thought, Ertman insisted the commission should wait to hear from Todd and Barton. She added that during previous discussions, there had been opposition to passing a resolution without all five commissioners present. 

Wagoner said, in looking back at the signing of the health orders in March, he believes the commissioners were misinformed about the seriousness of the issue. 

“Looking back now, it would have handled it differently,” Wagoner said. “We want to protect our people, but knowing what we do now, it (health orders) would have been wadded up and in the garbage.” 

Despite Ertman’s insistence  the board wait until the other commissioners are present, Wagoner and Hunt both voted in favor of the motion. Two votes of the three were all that were needed for the motion to pass. 

Hunt was adamant he had no issue passing the motion without the others present and they both had opportunity to request the topic be tabled until they were present. 

“There was a reason I had asked for it to be tabled. That is because I don’t know if anyone has the enthusiasm I do for the topic. I wanted to make a fair argument,” Hunt said. “It would be nice if it was unanimous. … We have had things done with just three, though.”

Hunt also said that he would draft a resolution similar to the Goshen County measure. The commissioners also agreed to continue looking at a variance to the public health orders for the entire county.  

Weston County Public Health Nurse Lori Bickford said she had no comment about the actions taken by the commissioners. 

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