County officials: Mask mandates, health guidelines being enforced

By: 
Jeff Victor with the Laramie Boomerang, from the Wyoming News Exchange

County officials: Mask mandates, health guidelines being enforced

 

By Jeff Victor

Laramie Boomerang

Via Wyoming News Exchange

 

LARAMIE — When Albany County instituted a mask mandate almost one month ago, there was skepticism and even fear about how it might be enforced.

A stroll through downtown will reveal that many individuals are wearing masks and many businesses are enforcing public health guidelines. But notably, some are not.

Not following health orders like the mask mandate could result in a $1000 fine, a year behind bars, or both, as per Wyoming statute. However, Albany County Prosecuting Attorney Peggy Trent — who is responsible for bringing prosecution of this sort — said those punishments are unlikely. Trent said she prefers enforcing orders through other means.

“Are we reviewing and pursuing cases at this time? Yes we are,” Trent said. “But I believe in criminal justice reform and using different manners and methods. Are we looking to incarcerate individuals for these offenses? No. We’re looking to get people into compliance.”

To that end, the county has used federal CARES Act funding to support three temporary positions, public health advocates tasked with educating businesses on how to comply with the various health orders.

“As the advocates speak with the business owners and individuals to attempt to get compliance, if there is not compliance with health orders and orders in general, those are referred over to my office for review and possible prosecution,” Trent said.

While she would not comment on specifics, Trent said her office has been, and is, pursuing prosecution for some cases.

Albany County Public Health Officer Jean Allais agreed that compliance, rather than punishment, is the goal.

“Our primary purpose in effecting the mask mandate is to protect the health and safety of our community and to slow transmission rates of the virus among members of the public,” Allais said. “This is meant to prevent our medical system from being overwhelmed. These purposes are best met through cooperation with safe practices and education.”

Emily Madden, general manager at the Crowbar and Grill, said she’s seen an improvement in people being safer this past month, as new case counts have decreased.

“In the weeks since the mask mandate went into effect, more people are coming in with masks or being prepared to put one on,” Madden said. “We still have people that come through that act like they’ve never heard of being asked to wear a mask before — which is frustrating because they’re just trying to be difficult at that point.”

It’s helpful to have a concrete order to back up Crowbar’s long-standing mask policy, Madden said, but while most people are complying, some are “flouting” the regulations as they have for months, and the new stricter health orders are long overdue.

“It was encouraging to see the county finally act,” Madden said. “But it took until we were well into being a hotspot in the nation before any sort of formal action was taken.”

Allais said the county needs everyone to follow the new guidelines.

“Businesses are responsible for having their employees and volunteers wear face coverings and they are responsible for posting signs that masks are mandatory,” Allais said. “Customers are responsible to wear face coverings in a business, and when standing in line to enter a business.”

Unmasked customers will not be charged for forgoing a mask. Allais said if customers refuse to wear a mask, business owners or employees can report them to law enforcement, which then has the ability to cite those customers for trespassing.

But both Trent and Allais said most people are complying.

“I am glad to see that the vast majority of people have chosen to protect their neighbors and the community by wearing face coverings,” Allais said. “And I hope that private citizens and businesses will help encourage everyone around them to do the same.”

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