Weston commissioners take next step against state health mandates

NEWCASTLE — At its Sept. 15 meeting, the Weston County Board of County Commissioners took the next step in taking a stand against state COVID-19 health mandates when the commissioners passed a “resolution to refrain from health-related mandates” and expressed their intent to move forward with drafting and requesting a countywide variance to the state health orders.  

The resolution, according to the commissioners, would have no real “teeth” against the statewide public health orders mandated by Gov. Mark Gordon and the Wyoming Department of Health in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it would make a statement for Weston County and the public’s opinion of
the orders. 

“The discussion was to go through the state for a variance for relief from the restrictions,” Commissioner Marty Ertman said when the topic of the resolution was reached on the agenda. 

Commissioner Tracy Hunt recalled the commissioners’ discussion about three separate actions, the first of which they approved at the Sept. 1 meeting when they removed the chairman’s signature from the public health orders. The second of those was the resolution drafted by Hunt, and the third would be a requested variance through both Mike Jording, the county’s health officer, and the state health officer. 

When directed to draft a variance for the commissioners to review at their first October meeting, County Attorney Alex Berger questioned whether the county wanted a “wholesale” variance for the entire county or a more specific variance. 

Ertman quickly expressed concern about dictating what the local school districts or private businesses do on their own property. 

“I don’t feel like we should be blanketing them. What the variance is asking for is the citizens of Weston County, the individual businesses, to do what they want to do, including the school districts,” Ertman said, noting that she is not sure that would be the default, though, if the commissioners were not specific enough. 

“I think that happens by default. The way I perceive what a variance would look like is, we would ask the state or local health officer to approve relief from all state requirements and restrictions. If the school wanted to impose their own, that is their affair. Same for a restaurant,” Hunt said. 

Ertman argued that the commissioners must make their intentions clear in the variance because the moment they removed the chairman’s signature from the health orders, members of the community perceived the commissioners said “to the wind” with all of the restrictions and that residents could now do as they pleased despite the public health orders in place by the state. 

“We didn’t, we approved to rescind our signatures,” Ertman said, adding the signature meant the commissioners had affirmed the public health orders and were stating that they had read them. 

She said commissioners must make their intentions clear to the public and the community needs to understand the commissioners are asking for the variance and the state could deny the request. 

“We are not necessarily opening up a free-for-all,” Chairman Ed Wagoner said. 

The resolution states that, following the Goshen County Commission’s adoption of a resolution addressing the health orders first implemented on March 13, the Weston County commissioners thought it would be appropriate to follow suit and express their disapproval of the continued health orders. 

Within the resolution, the commission states no metric for the ending of the constitutional infringements being articulated by the state, and the “flatten the curve” narrative is more than irrelevant at this point. 

“This order was temporally related to a national campaign to promote similar orders emanating from a variety of jurisdictions. Billed as ‘15 days to slow the spread’, citizens were told their sacrifice was small and limited in scope as their liberties would be restored in little over two weeks’ time. Yet, some 186 days later the state and regional health care capacity that serves Weston County and Wyoming has never been approached and still, constitutional liberties remain impaired,’” the resolution says. 

It also states Weston County residents have continued to follow the orders despite the widespread issues sparked by the health orders. 

“Citizens of Weston County have patiently and obediently abided by the orders imposed by state officials, the Board has considered the county-level impacts of state, national and global policies regarding the virus and notes the policies themselves have caused widespread social ills and collateral damage, including negative impacts to the economy, increased unemployment, consumption of family savings, business closures, poverty, domestic abuse, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse and importantly, a loss of credibility of State and local public health officials which should be jealously guarded against the event of a genuine need to invoke their powers,” the resolution continues.

Therefore, the resolution states, the board is making it known that they have the intent to “refrain from any county-level virus-related mandate concerning individual health care decisions, including but not limited to mandatory mask requirements, mandatory contact tracing, mandatory social distancing or mandatory vaccine administration.” 

The commissioners go on to state in the signed resolution they would encourage the public to make appropriate virus-related health care decisions for themselves and their families pursuant to the Wyoming Constitution. They also stated the desire for the state to make available as much information, in as much detail as possible, to the citizens of the state and county regarding the circumstances of each and every virus case recorded to the county as well as their desire for the state to articulate specific standards and metrics by which citizens can expect an end to the constitutional restrictions.

The full resolution passed by the Weston County Commissioners is available on the county website, at westongov.com/county-commissioners.