Commissioners vow to continue seeking COVID-19 variances

By: 
Alexis Barker

Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor

 

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the state, with active cases about five times higher than they were a month ago, Gov. Mark Gordon said that he is considering every option when it comes to stopping the spread of the disease in a press conference on Friday. 

Less than two weeks before Gordon’s press conference on Nov. 13, Weston County commissioners made it clear that they will continue to seek county wide variances to the COVID-19 guidelines. The state has denied previous requests, citing the county’s “red zone” status. 

On Nov. 5, Commissioner Marty Ertman said that while the state had denied the county’s most recent variance request, the county would continue to submit variances. She blamed Weston County’s “red zone” status on the high volume of cases at the Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp north of Newcastle. 

“We need to question the guidelines if the most isolated group has an outbreak,” Ertman said. “It’s an interesting time with the spike, but I have no problem continuing variances.” 

Chairman Ed Wagoner agreed, stating that the public needs to know that the commissioners are trying to open things back up in the county. 

While Gordon has maintained that his preference is giving counties the ultimate call on public health measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, he made it clear at his press briefing that this approach is obviously not working. 

“All things are on the table,” Gordon said. “We want to make sure that we address this issue before we completely lose all ability to respond to health crises.” 

Statewide, hospitalizations related to the illness are at an all-time high with 192 reported last Thursday; a month ago, the number of people hospitalized was 54. During his press conference, Gordon said that the region as a whole is suffering. 

A Nov. 14 Forbes.com article by Suzanne Rowan Kelleher names what she considered the 10 riskiest states to visit due to COVID-19, all of which are in the Midwest. According to the article, Wyoming is the fourth-riskiest state, after North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa. 

Kelleher says that not only does Wyoming not have a current statewide mask mandate but that the daily new cases per 100,000 is at 125.8 new cases daily, 403% above the “tipping point” threshold, with 43.4% of tests performed coming back positive. 

According to the Wyoming Department of Health, as of Monday, Nov. 16, Wyoming had 10,147 active COVID-19 cases, 173 of those in Weston County. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Weston County has seen a total of 277 confirmed cases while Wyoming has reported 19,885 confirmed cases. 

Weston County saw a decrease of confirmed cases on Monday by one, while the state added another 587 confirmed positives to its count. To date, Wyoming has recorded 144 deaths related to the illness. 

 

Masks required at school sporting events

The Wyoming High School Activities Association updated its COVID-19 regulations for winter sports on Nov. 16. As the association prepares for the winter sports season to kick off soon, the updated plans for both basketball and wrestling will require the use of face masks for athletes, coaches and spectators. 

“Face coverings are optional while participating but are required at all other times while in the building for everyone during practice (athletes and coaches),” the documents state, noting face coverings will also be required during events. 

“Participants must always wear face coverings while in the building, except when playing during the game. Coaches must always wear face coverings while in the building. All event workers must always wear face coverings while in the building. Gloves may be worn when appropriate,” the document states. 

For spectators, face masks will be required regardless of who they are sitting with. 

“Face coverings must always be worn while in the building. Face coverings must be worn regardless of social distancing and/or sitting with immediate family members,” the document continues. “Schools will develop a plan to include visiting spectators in the total number of spectators allowed by the current health orders and directives.” 

 

Previously, the use of face masks was recommended but not required. As the COVID-19 situation continues to progress in the state, the association made what it said were appropriate updates to the guidelines. Noted in documents and press releases is that the goal of the association is to keep students playing sports and in school throughout the pandemic and that the guidelines are developed with that goal in mind.

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