EVANSTON — At least some local businesses are able to reopen their doors following the issuance of revised public health orders by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and Public Health Officer Alexia Harrist. The new orders will replace those that expired on April 30, and will allow gyms, nail and hair salons, barber shops, cosmetologists, massage therapists, and tattoo and piercing shops to reopen on May 1, provided certain conditions are met.
Those conditions include limits on the number of patrons, the use of face masks by both staff and patrons, increased cleaning and sanitizing measures, not utilizing waiting areas and screening staff and customers for symptoms of illness prior to use. Gym facility locker rooms must remain closed.
In addition, childcare centers and home daycares are able to reopen with similar cleaning, screening and mask usage, and groups must be limited to less than 10, including both staff and children.
Such businesses that choose to reopen on May 1 do not need to seek specific approval from county health officers and businesses are not required to reopen if they do not feel prepared to do so.
The Wyoming Department of Health has issued guidance to Wyoming hospitals regarding the resumption of elective procedures and surgeries, effective immediately.
Other public health orders, including restrictions on public gatherings of more than 10 people, including for religious services, and those restricting restaurants to take-out, curbside and delivery, remain in effect through May 15. A health order asking out-of-state visitors to Wyoming to self-quarantine for 14 days will remain in effect through May 8.
Gordon has announced that camping in Wyoming state parks will reopen on May 15 for Wyoming residents only, with new safety measures and restrictions in effect. During a press conference on April 29, Gordon said campground occupancy levels in February were equal to those typically seen in June when visitors from around the country were flocking to the state. He said the state is not yet ready to handle an influx of out-of-state visitors who may bring illness with them and therefore camping in the state will be prohibited to all but Wyomingites.
Gordon and Harrist said the revised health orders are based on a desire to get the economy up and running, but the particular business types selected to reopen were those where large groups of people do not typically gather for an extended period of time and where opportunities for disease transmission could be minimized.
After assessing levels of confirmed illness after lifting some restrictions, additional steps can be taken to reopen more types of businesses. However, Gordon said conditions across the state can vary dramatically in terms of level of illness. Therefore, individual businesses can request an exception to the closure orders and variances on a county-wide level can be utilized to make the orders either more or less restrictive dependent upon local conditions.
A perturbed Gordon said, “I want to be very clear about this, and frankly I’m annoyed, but we never closed the economy in Wyoming. We’ve allowed people to keep working.” He went on to say he had taken the approach of asking people to stay home rather than forcing them to, counting on the common sense and responsibility of Wyoming residents to do the right thing.
Gordon also emphasized that Wyoming does not operate in a vacuum and both the level of disease transmission and economic impacts in the state are tied to national and global trends, particularly those of surrounding states.
Given that the Wyoming tourist season is right around the corner, Gordon emphasized he understands businesses dependent upon tourist dollars are eager to open, but said, “We want people who come to Wyoming to feel safe and have a good experience.” He reiterated the intention to reopen methodically and carefully, with decisions based on data.
Gordon repeatedly stressed he feels Wyoming is in a very good place to lead the nation in reopening and showing other states how to “get this right,” and said, “If we get this wrong, it’s going to be even more devastating.”
Wyoming Business Council Director Josh Dorrell spoke during the Wednesday press conference and said the council has been working closely with public health officials to determine how best to protect both lives and livelihoods. Dorrell said he’s spoken directly with numerous business owners who have said, “a series of start-ups and shutdowns would be even more damaging than staying closed.” To help small business owners, the business council is offering transition webinars and those interested can find more information at https://wyomingbusiness.org/transition.
Although gyms are now allowed to reopen, the Evanston Recreation Center will remain closed through at least May 15. A press release issued on April 29 said, “EPRD has determined that we cannot provide adequate services to our patrons and maintain the safety of our staff while operating under the restrictions that were provided.”
At least some local businesses are ready to reopen, however, Kylee Mortensen, owner of The Beauty Bar, said they will be open starting May 1, by appointment only. Additionally, all clients and staff will be required to wear masks, there will be limits on the number of people allowed in the shop at any one time, extra cleaning and sanitizing will be done between clients, all clients will be asked to wash their hands before and after services and everyone will be screened for symptoms of illness upon entering. The salon is unable to provide disposable masks for everyone so clients will be asked to bring their own cloth masks, though those in need can be directed to local suppliers of cloth masks.
“We’re ecstatic to be back open. Four weeks is a really long time without income for hairdressers. Plus, people are starting to look pretty scary out there,” Mortensen said with a laugh.
In other COVID-related developments, officials with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) visited the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston last week to tour the facility and meet with the staff — a visit that was planned prior to the positive cases were confirmed at WSH. The CDC staff affirmed that proper safety precautions and measures were in place at the facility.
Related to that visit, CDC team members at that time brought up the possibility of conducting a “Point Prevalence Survey” at the facility to provide a snapshot of conditions both at WSH and within the community.
Some staff and patients at WSH will be tested for COVID-19 during a 24-hour period on May 1 to help get a better understanding of how much the disease may be circulating, particularly among those who may be asymptomatic. Such surveys consist of testing large numbers of people in a limited time frame and are a completely voluntary way of gathering data to help with planning and decision making.
A press release from Uinta County Public Health reads, “The labor and supply-intensive process will not only be a help to the State Hospital and ensure that their procedures are protecting staff and patients, but will also provide a good picture of our community’s current experience with COVID-19. Because the Wyoming State Hospital employs many Evanston residents, the sample will provide important local insight, especially about individuals infected who aren’t exhibiting any symptoms.”
The release goes on to state, “Increased testing for COVID-19 (and therefore greater awareness of positive cases) is one of the goals or capacities needed to make informed decisions about the safety of further relaxing the virus mitigation strategies within the community. This will be a useful step in achieving more testing and more knowledge about our community’s status.”
As of press time, there were 404 lab-confirmed cases and another 140 probable cases in Wyoming, with dozens of cases confirmed within the past week.
The WDH reports 371 of the confirmed and probable cases have recovered; the number of fatalities remained at seven. A grand total of 9,306 tests have been conducted in the state, with 238 of those in Uinta County.