EVANSTON — In what is likely welcome news for many, Uinta County officials have requested a county-wide variance from some of the public health orders currently in effect in Wyoming due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That request was approved by Wyoming State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist on Wednesday, May 6.
The variance, posted on the Wyoming Department of Health website, specifically addresses Statewide Order No. 1, which closed bars, restaurants, theaters, gymnasiums, childcare facilities, K-12 schools, colleges, universities and trade schools. Under the approved variance, restaurants and bars may reopen for on-premises food and beverage consumption under the following restrictions, which must be enforced by the business owners.
First, all patrons must be seated at tables or booths, limited to groups of six or less, preferably of the same household. Tables must be positioned so that guests at different tables are at least 6 feet apart from one another when seated and signs must be in place to remind guests to stand at least 6 feet apart. Businesses need to ensure social distancing guidelines are followed and staff must wear face coverings at all times and perform hand hygiene between interactions at each table.
Tables cannot be set prior to customer arrival and cannot be cleared until guests have left the table. Additionally, tables, chairs and all items potentially touched by customers, including menus, salt and pepper shakers., etc., must be sanitized when customers leave. The use of disposable items is encouraged.
Other requirements include hand sanitizer availability, increased cleaning and disinfecting of all areas, the continued closure of buffets and self-service food and drink areas, and the encouragement of contactless and non-signature payment. Staff must be screened for symptoms and exposure prior to each shift and meticulous work logs are required. Playgrounds must remain closed, bars must close by 10 p.m., and no dart or pool leagues, dances, or karaoke are allowed.
Gyms have already been allowed to reopen with restrictions, but some of those have been eased with the variance order as well. Groups classes are allowed, provided there are nine or fewer people in a room and all participants are able to stay 6 feet away from one another and not share equipment. Locker rooms and showers are also able to be utilized, provided lockers are disinfected after use.
Statewide Order No. 2 is also amended to allow gatherings of up to 20 people, as opposed to the previous limitation of no more than 10. Religious organizations and funeral homes are allowed to conduct services as well, with a few continued restrictions. A 6-foot distance must be maintained between individual household groups, which may limit the number of people allowed in a confined area because of spacing requirements. Close contact between members of different households is prohibited, and reading materials, collection plates and communion trays are not be passed between attendees.
Buildings must be thoroughly cleaned before and after each service or meeting, communion must be served in individual containers or served individually by gloved and masked people, and any leaders or staff who come within 6 feet of attendees must be masked. Staff and leaders must also be screened for symptoms or exposure to those with COVID-19.
Hand sanitizer must be provided at entrances and exits and individuals who are sick or who are at higher risk for illness should be encouraged to stay home, while all attendees should be encouraged to wear cloth face coverings. Organizations are also asked to designate areas for high-risk individuals or provide a separate service for high-risk individuals only.
The variance states the county currently has a positive test rate of 1.4% of the 502 tests that have been conducted, which is significantly less than the statewide positive rate of 4%. Additionally, the variance includes data on the acceptable and adequate availability of hospital and ICU beds, testing supplies and capabilities and personal protective equipment.
The variance further states it can be revoked or modified by Uinta County Health Officer Dr. Mike Adams, with the direction and supervision of Harrist, at any time should conditions warrant it, and further states that any violation of the variance may allow for criminal prosecution under Wyoming Statute.
Some Evanston businesses, like Bon Rico, have indicated on their Facebook pages that the new restrictions make it problematic to begin dine-in service so they will continue offering take-out only. Others, like Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse, told the Herald they’re uncertain as to their future plans and encouraged people to follow them on Facebook to find out when they’ll again be open for dine-in service.
On Evanston’s Main Street, however, some familiar downtown staples have reopened their doors. Suds Bros. Brewery reopened on Thursday, May 7, with reduced seating capacity, increased cleaning and sanitation, masks for staff and other changes to ensure staff aren’t touching customer silverware.
Owner Travis Martinez said it’s a relief to be open again but he has some mixed emotions due to the extent of illness and deaths that have occurred throughout the country. He said he doesn’t want to minimize any of that but also wants to provide some type of normalcy for people who have been struggling with depression and feeling down during the past nearly two months of social distancing and closures.
“We just want to make people feel safe and do this as intelligently and responsibly as possible,” said Martinez.
Kate’s opened again the same afternoon as the variance was approved. Owner Rachel Reifon said they’ve made changes inside to comply with the variance requirements, including setting up a sanitation station just inside the door, spreading tables further apart, sanitizing tables after each party leaves and putting up signs telling people to wash their hands and stay 6 feet apart.
“We’re just trying to be careful,” said Reifon, explaining that many of her regular customers have missed the social interaction they get from gathering at Kate’s. “When we opened, people were so stoked to see each other. It was almost tear-jerking.”