County not planning to request local mask mandate

Nathan Oster

While a statewide order could still come from the governor’s desk, members of Big Horn County’s COVID-19 incident management team say they have no intention of requesting a local order that would require people in the county to wear masks.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the state had approved local mask mandate requests from 12 of the state’s 23 counties, including Park and Hot Springs counties in the Big Horn Basin, as well as Teton, Laramie, Albany, Natrona, Sweetwater, Sheridan, Lincoln, Goshen, Sublette and Carbon counties.

According to the Casper Star-Tribune, the state is currently reviewing similar requests from Washakie and Converse counties, which if approved by State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist and Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill, would represent approximate 70 percent of the state’s counties.

Members of Big Horn County’s incident management team said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that they’ve “made every effort to remain middle of the road” in their approach to the pandemic and are choose that same course with respect to a local mask mandate. 

“At this time, we are seeing a startling increase in positive COVID-19 cases throughout the state and more specifically in Big Horn County,” the statement read. “At the same time, we are seeing more people choose to wear a face covering in public places, in response to the increased numbers. 

“We are encouraged by this response — which is being made as a choice. More of our citizens are choosing to err on the side of caution, and wear a face covering in public spaces. The science supports face coverings as one of the means to slow the spread and flatten the curve.”

Statewide the virus continues to wreak havoc, with 11 more deaths reported Tuesday.  Four of the victims were from Natrona County and residents of long-term care facilities.  Deaths were also reported in Campbell, Carbon, Converse, Crook, Johnson and Sheridan counties, bringing the state’s total to 155. 

According to statewide reports, the news came as the state reported a single-day record for new confirmed cases of coronavirus. The Wyoming Department of Health, in its daily coronavirus update, said 1,162 new confirmed cases of the illness were reported Tuesday, with reports of new cases coming from every county.

The state also said new reports of 505 recoveries were received Tuesday. Combined with reports of 98 new probable cases, that left the state with 10,891 active cases, an increase of 744 over Monday.  Of those 10,891 active cases, 73 were in Big Horn County.

The record increase in new confirmed cases brought the number of confirmed cases seen since the first case was diagnosed in Wyoming in mid-March to 21,047. The number of probable cases grew by 98 Tuesday to total 3,406. The 505 recoveries brought the total number of people who have recovered from the illness to 13,407.

Dr. David Fairbanks, Big Horn County’s public health officer, said he and other members of the incident management team are on the same page with respect to the request for a local mask mandate, saying, “I feel that Big Horn County has shown an improved response in wearing masks  .. and shared responsibility for our county citizens.”

At the same time, Fairbanks admitted that he was among the 20 county health officers who recently signed off on a letter to Gov. Mark Gordon, urging him to consider a statewide order making masks mandatory.  The Wyoming Medical Society and the Wyoming Hospital Association joined the health officers in the request.

“The science supports this and I want to help keep our citizens healthy, keep our businesses open and our schools open with their sports and extracurricular activities,” said Fairbanks.

Gordon did not say in a news conference Friday whether a statewide order was coming — only that it was among the steps being considered.  He did announce that the state would be extending its current health orders by one week, rather than the usual two-week extension.

In its Tuesday statement, the BHC incident response team said, “If at some time, a face covering mandate were necessary for consistency throughout the state, we would support that as one of the many ways to try to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Wyoming. 

“We will not, however, request a mask mandate specifically for our county at this time. This is an issue that we will continue to discuss and revisit as time and circumstances evolve.”

The team is instead asking citizens to wear face coverings for the next two weeks in public spaces.

“We can all be proactive in our individual choices instead of waiting for someone to make a mandate,” read the statement. “Ultimately, this matter is up to each and every county resident. This is not a political issue; this is a health and safety issue. 

“Please do your part for yourself, your family and your community! Let's stay 9'er Strong!”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Wyoming Department of Health’s website showed 345 confirmed COVID-19 cases along with another 39 probable cases.  Nine county residents are listed as COVID-19 related deaths on the same site.