EVANSTON — Two of the six measures on the Wyoming COVID-19 Dashboard statewide metrics are now in the red, or concerning zone, as the number of new cases and the number of hospitalizations continue to increase across the state. In addition, two more COVID-19 fatalities were announced on Thursday — one in each in Sweetwater and Fremont counties — bringing Wyoming’s total fatalities to 24. The statewide public health orders that have been in place for months now have again been continued through at least the end of July.
During a press conference on Wednesday, July 15, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon became visibly emotional discussing the attitudes of some Wyomingites regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’ve gotten some email that I really don’t appreciate,” said Gordon, “and I just want to point out that I really feel badly and I grieve along with families of any of these people who die, so when somebody sends me a note that says, ‘Well, these people were gonna die anyway, they’re just dying sooner,’ I’ve gotta say I’m offended, and as an American I think most people are gonna be offended by the notion that people should just get this COVID-19 and get it out of the way. I’m sick and tired of that.”
Gordon continued, “Our country and our nation needs to be open. We need to behave in a way that is conscientious of one another. There is no constitutional right to go infect somebody else. There’s no constitutional right that says you can put others in harm’s way. … Let’s be mindful of others. That’s the country I grew up in.”
When asked for additional information on comments he has received about those dying of COVID-19 “just dying sooner,” Gordon said he has received many such comments.
“It’s just amazing to me,” he said. “If somebody has diabetes, does another individual have the constitutional right to make sure they die prematurely? I just don’t see that, but yet one of the letters I got suggested something about, ‘people gotta be ready to meet the Lord.’ Well, OK, but I’m not sure that you need to assist me meeting the Lord.”
Gordon repeatedly expressed concern about the increasing number of cases and the failure of some Wyoming citizens to abide by recommendations on reducing the spread of illness.
“We were well on our way to relieving all of our orders,” he said, “and now we’re seeing these concerning trends, and I think this is related to the people taking a more casual attitude toward what they can do to do the right thing to make sure that we keep our economy open and we keep our friends and neighbors — and our grandparents — healthy.”
According to Gordon and State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, 700 of Wyoming’s total 1,605 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases have occurred in the past month, though Gordon said Wyoming still remains one of the safest states in the country, particularly as large flare-ups of illness are occurring in other western states and throughout the nation.
“We do not want to shut down our economy again,” said Gordon forcefully. “It’s not going to come from the governor or some governmental order, it’s going to come because the entire staff is sick.”
He referenced comments from CDC Director Robert Redfield, who stated the extensive use of masks could significantly slow down the pandemic and allow businesses to remain open and allow students to return to classrooms in the fall.
Gordon also spoke of private businesses issuing notices that they will begin requiring customers to wear masks, saying, “This is their prerogative and constitutional right. If they say, ‘No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service,’ by God, I’m gonna respect that.”
“I support the rights of private businesses taking steps to protect the safety of their employees, and I respect the courage of the employees to go to work, and I think people in Wyoming generally will respect those rights,” said Gordon.
In her comments, Harrist noted that, although the novel coronavirus is still relatively new, health experts have learned about the virus and how it spreads, and that knowledge has become the basis for the health recommendations of staying home when sick, distancing and utilizing cloth face coverings when distancing is not possible or practical. Harrist said small actions can have a huge positive impact, describing two stylists working in a Missouri salon who both worked while having symptoms that were later discovered to be COVID-19. Both had served “dozens of clients” in close contact situations, said Harrist, none of whom contracted COVID-19, likely because both the stylists themselves and their clients wore cloth face coverings.
“Following expert recommendations is the path to getting more of what we all want back into our daily lives,” said Harrist.
When asked about the possibility of issuing a statewide order requiring masks in public places, Gordon said he is not inclined to issue such an order because he has faith in the people of Wyoming to do the right thing after being presented with the information and reasoning behind asking people to wear masks. Gordon did, however, say that if a particular county or area requested such an order be implemented in that location, the State would certainly consider granting that request.
He then turned again to the issue of businesses requiring masks, saying, “There have been some obnoxious individuals who have gone in and argued the constitutionality of it. I think that those people ought to read Federalist No. 10 or Federalist No. 84 and understand really what the Constitution says. The Constitution says, ‘if it’s my property and I don’t want you coming in here without a mask on, then by God, we’ll fix that.’ Those Republican principles that we count on are ones that ought to be respected.”
Gordon further said, “Our Constitution was designed to make sure that we ensured the common good, and that’s been tested time and time again. Rights do not mean that I don’t have any responsibilities. You can see this in the Federalist papers, and you can see this in the writings of the Founders. Rights imply responsibilities and people need to take responsibility.”
Gordon then spoke about school reopening in the fall and the steps the Wyoming Department of Education has taken in preparing the Smart Start guidance document and working with individual districts to allow for “local informed planning.”
“When we talk about what might happen this fall, it is pretty unclear what might happen by mid-August,” Gordon said, “but it is absolutely certain that this virus will still be in place and I’m happy to say the schools have been doing their best to try and address it.”
“I will say that masks probably have a place in schools reopening,” Gordon continued. “I just want to make that clear. Masks will help those schools stay open, masks will help our kids get back to the classroom where they need to be, and masks will help them get back to education and we won’t lose any more of that very precious time.”
Both Evanston grocery stores — Walmart and Smith’s — will begin requiring masks next week after corporate offices of Walmart and Kroger announced the decisions on Wednesday. The mask requirement at Walmart takes effect on July 20, while the Smith’s/Kroger requirement begins on July 22.