Gordon to lift mask mandate next week

A woman wears a face covering while walking outdoors. Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said he will lift the statewide mask mandate effective Tuesday, March 16. (COURTESY PHOTO)

EVANSTON — Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has announced that, effective Tuesday, March 16, the statewide mask mandate will be lifted, and restaurants, bars, gyms and theaters will have all COVID-19 restrictions removed. A press release from Gordon’s office said additional details on changing health orders will be released later this week; however, the governor wanted Wyoming citizens to be aware of the significant pending changes right away.

That release referenced the continued improvement in the state’s COVID-19 metrics, including the number of new cases and hospital and ICU utilization numbers as determinants in deciding to lift the mask mandate. Although the mandate will be lifted, Gordon and Wyoming Department of Health officials urged residents to continue to be vigilant and voluntarily wear masks in indoor public spaces and to adhere to individual business requirements regarding masking and distancing.

“I thank the people of Wyoming for their commitment to keeping one another safe throughout this pandemic,” Gordon said. “It is through their efforts that we have kept our schools and businesses operating and our economy moving forward. I ask all Wyoming citizens to continue to take personal responsibility for their actions and stay diligent as we look ahead to the warmer months and to the safe resumption of our traditional spring and summer activities.”

One order that will not change, however, is the mask requirements for K-12 schools, where students and staff will still be expected to wear masks any time 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained in order to help ensure students are able to complete the school year and students activities are able to continue.

“Wyoming is one of the few states in the country that kept students learning in the classroom for the entire school year. We made sacrifices, but the earlier orders saved lives. We persevered,” said Gordon. “With this approach we can have graduations, proms and a great end to the school year by keeping schools open. Especially since our children will not have the chance to be vaccinated this spring.”

Gordon emphasized the successful vaccination campaign throughout the state, with nearly 19% of the state’s population having received at least one dose of a two-dose series as of Monday, March 8.

In Uinta County, public health nurse manager Kim Proffit said the county has had anticipated vaccine allocations for the remainder of the month increased. According to WDH estimates, the county is expected to receive 3,400 first doses before the month is over. The majority of those doses will be the same Moderna vaccine that has been utilized thus far in the county; however, the county will be receiving a very limited amount of the newly-authorized Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine. Proffit said she anticipates the single-shot vaccines will be utilized in settings like the county jail where it would make more sense to have a single vaccination clinic.

That would bring to about 6,500 the number of people in the county who could have received at least one dose by the end of March, not counting the approximately 300 doses administered at Evanston Regional Hospital and an anticipated 800 doses received by the Evanston Walmart pharmacy as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

Uinta County is doing so well administering doses through mass clinics that pre-registration for all sub-groups in tier 1B of the vaccine prioritization schedule began last week and Proffit said they anticipate opening pre-registration for all sub-groups in tier 1C within the next couple of days. Information on those priority groups, as well as the link to pre-register for clinics and the vaccination consent form can be found on uintacounty.com.

Proffit said she anticipates other area pharmacies receiving shipments to help administer vaccines within the next several weeks. She also shared some information on the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines, noting that more than 50 million people have been vaccinated so far, with many participating in regular assessments afterward, making the COVID-19 vaccination project the most intensely monitored program in history in terms of safety.

The Centers for Disease Control issued long-awaited guidance on Monday, March 8, as well, providing information on what individuals who are fully vaccinated can do safely. Specifically, people who are fully vaccinated can safely visit with and be in the company of other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks or distancing requirements.

Fully vaccinated people can also safely visit with unvaccinated people from one other household indoors without masks or distancing, provided the unvaccinated people are not members of high-risk categories for COVID-19 complications. Fully vaccinated people also do not need to quarantine after exposure to someone with COVID-19, as long as the vaccinated people are asymptomatic.

The COVID-19 vaccinations have been demonstrated to be extremely effective in preventing severe illness from COVID-19; however, data are still being compiled as to whether vaccinated people can spread illness to others. For that reason, it is still recommended that vaccinated people wear masks and distance around unvaccinated people at high-risk for serious illness and in medium and large gatherings where unvaccinated people from multiple households may be in attendance.

A press release from the CDC states the hope is that providing guidance on the activities vaccinated people can safely participate in will encourage more people to get the vaccines, thereby allowing for a speedier return to normal activities when herd immunity is reached.

Uinta County’s active case numbers have continued to decrease over the past week. Proffit said there were only 19 active cases in the county as of Monday, with only 15 confirmed cases reported in the past week. Evanston Regional Hospital CEO Cheri Willard said there were no current hospitalizations at ERH, although they have still had some emergency room visits from people with confirmed cases.

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