The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Wyoming grew by 11 to total 415 on Thursday as state residents began preparing for the easing of restrictions imposed on some businesses in March to prevent the spread of the illness.
New statewide health orders took effect Friday allowing gyms and businesses providing personal services, such as hair salons, tattoo parlors and cosmetologists, to reopen.
The state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people will remain in place until at least May 15, Gov. Mark Gordon said this week, and no date has been proposed for the reopening of restaurants, bars and theaters. However, Gordon said county officials can ask for exceptions and county-wide variances to the state health orders.
Officials in Sheridan County have already requested two variances, one to allow restaurants to offer dining outside and another to allow for modified services in churches. While churches have not specifically been ordered closed in Wyoming, the order prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people has effectively shut down most in the state.
In Park County, officials are also asking for the state to allow outdoor dining at restaurants.
Officials in Teton County, meanwhile, have already received permission to impose more restrictive rules than those in place statewide. Officials, pointing to the fact that the county’s coronavirus infection and hospitalization rates are much higher than the statewide average, asked for and received permission to keep gyms and businesses providing personal services closed until May 11.
The limited reopening came as the state Department of Health reported 11 new cases of coronavirus in five counties Thursday.
New cases were reported in Campbell, Fremont, Laramie, Sweetwater and Teton counties.
Fremont, the county hardest hit by the coronavirus, saw its confirmed case count go up by six to 108.
As of Thursday afternoon, Laramie County had 98 cases; Teton County had 65; Natrona had 39; Campbell had 15; Converse had 13; Sheridan had 12; Johnson had 11; Sweetwater had 11; Albany had eight; Lincoln and Uinta had six; Crook and Washakie had five; Carbon had four; Goshen had three, and Big Horn had two. Hot Springs, Niobrara, Park and Sublette counties each had one case.
The number of recoveries among people with confirmed cases of coronavirus and those suspected of having the illness went up by two to total 373. The number includes 269 recoveries among those with laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 104 recoveries among those believed to have a “probable” case.
A probable case is defined as one where a person has not been tested, but has shown signs of the illness and was in contact with someone who had a confirmed case. As of Thursday, the number of probable cases in the state was set at 144.
In other developments:
Campgrounds open: Darin Westby, director of the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources, announced a reservation system will be used to operate the campgrounds in Wyoming’s state parks in accordance with social distancing rules and state health orders. The parks are to open for overnight camping for Wyoming residents only on May 15. Westby said those wishing to camp at the parks will need to reserve space so his department can keep campers far enough apart to remain safe and to make sure only Wyoming residents get campsites.
Tracking app: Teton County officials are negotiating a contract for a cell phone app that can track people’s movements, seen as one way to simplify the job of tracing the contacts made by people infected with coronavirus. The app made by SafePaths tracks users through their daily routine. If they are infected with the virus and share that information with a county health department, the app will send a record of their movements to officials. Those who are not infected can choose to be alerted if they come in close contacted with someone who does have the virus.
Ticketed: A bar owner in Gillette has been ticketed for violating the state’s public health orders by allowing dozens of people to drink on the bar’s property. Campbell County Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds said deputies found a large group of people having drinks at The Office on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, Gillette police found about 20 people sitting outside of Uncle Freddie’s Junkyard Grill, eating and drinking alcohol. The restaurant’s owner was issued a warning.
Forest closures: Bridger-Teton National Forest officials have closed the forest’s developed campgrounds through the end of May. The closures were instituted because of health concerns. “While we know that going outside provides forest visitors with needed space, exercise and mental health, we are taking the risks presented by COVID-19 seriously,” said Forest Supervisor Tricia O’Connor.
Schools closed: Goshen County School District officials have joined other school officials around the state in deciding not to reopen school buildings during the current school year. District Superintendent Ryan Kramer said there is no way the district could get students back into classrooms before the scheduled end of the school year on May 28. As a result, students will continue to be taught at home.
Metal festival ‘postponed’: Jackson’s outdoor metal music festival, “Fire in the Mountains,” has been “postponed” until 2021. Organizer Jeremy Walker said in addition to concerns about people safely gathering for the July event, performers had concerns about traveling to Jackson for the festival. “We’re not canceling the event,” he said. “We’re just postponing it. It’ll make it that much better when the date finally comes.”