Rep. Roy Edwards (R-Gillette) during the 2020 Legislative session. Edwards died after being hospitalized on Monday in Casper. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include additional comments sent to WyoFile by Rep. Roy Edwards’ son Mitch Edwards, who wrote that the Edwards family had not attended any of the church services or gatherings described in the reporting. —Ed. 

Videos and social media posts indicate COVID-19 infections reached the congregation of a church headed by one state lawmaker and attended by Rep. Roy Edwards, who died Monday while hospitalized in Casper.

In a series of online addresses to the Central Baptist Church of Gillette between late October and early November, Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette) described COVID-19’s increasing presence in the congregation he leads.

“We have so many people in our church who are sick and ill with COVID-19 and so we want to just be very very careful,” Clem said in an Oct. 28 video. He also discussed Edwards’ hospitalization at that time. 

“Many of you know he [Edwards] is in the hospital there in Casper,” Clem said later in that video. “He is in stable condition but last I heard wasn’t necessarily improving and so he’s there in the ICU and so we really want to lift him up and then others in our church as well who have COVID.”

Five days later, on Nov. 2, Edwards died. Clem did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Officials and Edwards’ family have not disclosed the  cause of death. 

“I think right now the family is deciding whether or not to release any information regarding Roy’s medical illness,” Edwards’ son Mitch said when reached by phone on Friday. “We will do so on our own time and when we think it’s appropriate.” 

Death certificates, which include a cause of death, are not public record, according to Vital Statistics Services, a branch of the Wyoming Department of Health. 

Health measure opponents

Clem and Edwards were close politically, personally and in their faith. “Part of my involvement in state politics was because of Roy,” Clem wrote in a Nov. 2 Facebook post. “He was a political mentor I looked up to, and someone who I frequently talked to. I can remember driving to Casper with Roy for the Republican caucus after that first election, still with the buzz of excitement over our election wins. We talked for hours.”

Since the pandemic’s start, Clem and Edwards have both stridently opposed government measures to quell the virus’s spread. Clem has labeled public health orders as government overreach, introduced a failed bill to limit the authority of public health officers and suggested influenza is more deadly than COVID-19. The novel coronavirus has killed far more people in Wyoming than influenza this year. 

Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette) at the 2020 Legislative session. The conservative politician and pastor has railed against government orders to slow COVID-19’s spread. His remarks in videos posted by his church portray how the disease infected his congregation in recent weeks. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

In September, Clem was one of a number of lawmakers who questioned Wyoming Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist at a legislative committee meeting. Edwards was also part of that questioning. Edwards echoed unfounded conservative talking points that the virus’s impact was overblown for political reasons and would vanish after the November election.

“It wasn’t as significant as we first thought it was,” Clem told WyoFile in September. “Not to say that it wasn’t significant, not to say it wasn’t dangerous.”  

But, “people take calculated risks every single day,” he said. “It’s government and the media going a certain direction and the public is looking at it logically and going a different direction.” 

Campbell County has since become one of the state’s virus hotspots.

Sick congregants

By as early as Oct. 18, virus infections were present in Clem’s congregation.

In two videos of church services posted online that day, Clem talked about having a number of sick congregants. “There is a lot of sick folks and I’m sure that some of it actually probably is COVID related,” he said. He named at least one churchgoer who had tested positive. 

Clem also referenced a social gathering the night before in the videos, labeling it a success with a “good turnout.”

In an Oct. 21 post from the church’s Facebook account, Clem wrote that the congregation had two confirmed cases. “I suspect we have many more,” he wrote, and asked people who were sick to stay home. 

Clem posted a video of a pre-recorded sermon online that day, since some in his congregation were staying away from the church. “I saw the church chat was just going wild,” he said in the video. “A lot of people are sick and just staying at home and taking precautions and I think that is wonderful.”

Clem encouraged people to stay home if sick but also said that “colds come and go.” 

“Honestly folks I’m not worried,” he said. “I’m not filled with anxiety or care or anything like that.” 

The church also posted a video of an in-church service that day. The video does not show how many people attended, but in it Clem tells the congregation he is “pleasantly surprised” by attendance.

“I wasn’t sure how many people we were going to have tonight and we have a good little crowd,” Clem said. 

Screenshot of a Google street view image of the Central Baptist Church in Gillette. (Google)

On Oct. 23, a post appeared on the church account citing confirmed positive cases and cancelling a service and Sunday school classes, but keeping one service scheduled. 

“A great number of people in our congregation have fallen ill, including at least 4 people who have tested positive for COVID-19,” the post read. “I suspect a great number of those who are currently ill may have this virus.” 

Edwards was hospitalized the night of Oct. 23, according to a report from the Gillette News Record. The Edwards family had not attended the church services or social gatherings described above, Mitch Edwards wrote to WyoFile.

On Oct. 27, Clem announced he was moving services online for the time being.  

On Oct. 28, Clem posted the video where he discussed Edwards’ hospitalization. Some of the sick churchgoers “were having a real rough go,” Clem said in that video. 

In an Oct. 31 email to the other members of the Wyoming Legislature, Clem wrote that Edwards had been airlifted to the Wyoming Medical Center. “As many of you know, Representative Edwards was flown to Casper last week,” Clem wrote in the email. “His condition has not improved and this morning it sounds like he is to be intubated.”

Intubation is a medical procedure where a tube is inserted through a patient’s mouth in order to place him or her on a ventilator. The procedure is often utilized with critically ill COVID-19 patients, as the virus overwhelms the respiratory system. 

Edwards’ wife hoped for prayers from Edwards’ lawmaker colleagues, but also privacy, Clem wrote. “The media has been fishing for information, which she really doesn’t want disclosed,” he wrote. 

On Nov. 1, Clem led the church in praying “for a miracle” for Edwards. “Really we need that,” he said in a video that day. “There’s a multitude of people in our church who have gotten this disease,” Clem said. “We pray for others who are sick in our church, so many people with COVID.” He went on to name seven individuals and a family. Others were sick as well, Clem said. 

On Monday, Nov. 2, Clem wrote lawmakers to inform them of Edwards’ death. “It’s with a heavy heart that I tell you Roy Edwards went home to glory. He passed at about 10:30 this morning,” Clem wrote.

Condolences

Gov. Mark Gordon ordered the Wyoming state flag flown at half mast on the Capitol and in Campbell County. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” the governor said in a statement. 

A number of Wyoming politicians offered condolences online and hailed Edwards’ career in public service. “Roy was as rock solid conservative as you could find,” Senate Vice President Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) wrote on Facebook. “No need to lobby him one way or the other — Roy stayed true to his values — always.  You will be missed.”

Rep. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne) wrote that “I didn’t always agree with him politically but I NEVER heard a negative word out of his mouth. I will miss shaking his hand and giving him a hard time.”

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney posted her condolences to Twitter. “Phil and I were deeply saddened by the news of State Representative Roy Edwards’ passing,” she wrote. “Roy was a friend to all that knew him, and he never knew a stranger.” Phil is Philip Perry, Cheney’s husband and former general counsel for U.S. Homeland Security. 

The Wyoming Republican Party also honored Edwards online. “Roy was a true servant of the people and recognized who he worked for when serving at all levels of government for over thirty years,” the party posted to its Facebook page.

Support independent reporting — donate to WyoFile today.

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

Join the Conversation

11 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. My in-laws go to a evangelical (pro Trump church) They are in their 80s and don’t wear masks. This is so upsetting to me. What I would like to say to them is if Jesus Christ himself came and sat down with them at their kitchen table and tried to explain to them that wearing a mask not only protects them but also their church family, would they listen? And doesn’t God want us to look out for and care for each other? And God himself created these scientists, doctors and nurses with their extraordinary minds and hearts begging us to make the right decision and wear a mask. But noooooo lets follow the word of someone who lied over 20,000 times during his years in office. Yeah lets worship him.

  2. I am sorry for the loss to the family and the citizens of Campbell County who placed their faith in him as a legislator. However, his “Do or Die” philosophy failed to recognize the danger he could be spreading. We know that an asymptotic COVID positive individual is capable of infecting any person he comes in close contact with weeks before he falls ill.

  3. Once again, we are being told that “churchgoing” is more important that safe practices. Sorry, right wing beliefs and religious observance do no inoculate against a virus that has no politics, no religion, interest in what you want for your life, How many of those good, right wing Baptists wore a mask, stayed 6+ feet away from everyone else and otherwise generally followed the science, not Genesis?

  4. Roy Edwards was a great loss to Christian conservatives across the State. Hopefully they can appoint someone as good to replace him.

  5. At what point are the citizens of this state going to take this pandemic seriously? This virus does not care about your religious freedoms, the constitution, who you voted for, or anything else. All it wants to do is infect your body and do as much damage as possible. Freedom is a both a right and responsibility. It doesn’t entitle you to endanger those around you so that you can exercise your own “freedoms” If we don’t start taking this more seriously, more lives will be lost, the hospitals will be forced to make very hard decisions because they are over run, and further economic damage will occur. Wear a mask and make good decisions, it isn’t that hard! Its unfortunate what happened to Rep Edwards regardless of whether it was Covid or not. However, if it was a Covid related death, wearing masks would have likely prevented it as it is an airborne illness of which the impacts are proven to be greatly reduced by wearing face coverings.

  6. I thought this god fella was s’posed to take care of his “children”. That was what Southern Baptists were taught when I was a kid and forced to be one…utter nonsense I gave up on before graduating high school. Too much illogical thought and taking things “on faith” for me.

  7. Representative Edwards was a great Wyomingite and served HD 53 and the state well.

    Real clear politics measures COVID-19 deaths per 50 states and 10 year seasonal influenza deaths. Wyoming has had 105 COVID-19 deaths and an average of 85 influenza deaths. COVID-19 is deadly serious with a mortality rate of 0.64%.

    It is poor journalism to imply a death came from church. A highly contagious disease can be spread during any activity reinforcing our need for face coverings, hand washing, and distancing as possible. It may have came from church or may not. Prohibiting church or constitutional freedoms is a price too high.

    I wish Representative Edwards family and the congregation of Central Baptist my condolences.

    1. I feel for representative Edward’s family and wish they didn’t have to go through what they are currently going through. My thoughts are with them and everyone who has been impacted by covid.

      However, your justification, or attempt of justification, is the problem our country is currently facing. Your defense of religious and “constitutional” freedoms is endangering the rest of the public. Your church will be there once covid is more manageable or hopefully, mitigated.

      Please don’t be selfish.

    2. Nobody is banning church here. But for the love of God (pardon the pun) please be smarter and safer about churchgoing. Packing into a crowded room of congregants for hours with no masks and insufficient physical distancing WILL spread this disease to your fellow congregants, some of whom may get seriously ill or die. That is neither godly behavior, nor is it a ‘constitutional right’. Show some moral backbone and personal responsibility and take the necessary steps to protect yourself and those around you by attending virtual services if at all possible, and otherwise wearing masks, and avoiding close physical contact with others. I hardly think Jesus wishes for his followers to spread a highly contagious, deadly disease to each other while spreading his love.