Though case numbers painted a better picture about COVID-19’s health impacts, week 12 of the pandemic in Wyoming brought stark warnings from Gov. Mark Gordon about inevitable budget cuts that will have major implications across the state. 

Meanwhile, protesters — most in masks, some not — gathered in towns across Wyoming to express outrage over the police killing of George Floyd and police brutality in what have so far been peaceful events. Health experts fear the nationwide protests, many of which have escalated into violence, risk accelerating the virus’s spread

By Thursday evening, the state reported 709 confirmed and 212 probable COVID-19 cases. With recovered cases surging this week, recoveries now far outpace active cases in the state. Active cases are estimated at fewer than 200, while recoveries number more than 700, according to the Department of Health. 

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients fell to just four as of Thursday — the lowest number since record keeping began on April 7. 

Health workers have conducted more than 26,777 tests. With 709 confirmed cases, that gives Wyoming a 2.6% positive test rate, which is low compared to other states. The state’s death count rose by two since last week and is now at 17. 

Improving case numbers aside, Gordon was blunt in his assessment of Wyoming’s financial future, which is imperiled by a combination of declining mineral revenues and the outbreak’s impacts. 

After convening a special meeting to revise its projections, the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group now expects a $1.5 billion reduction in revenues through June of 2022.

Wyoming “is facing the largest revenue decline that it has ever seen,” Gordon said during a Thursday press conference. “That means we have to take action.” 

Gordon has alerted all agency heads to prepare to cut 20%, or one-fifth, of the state budget, he said. 

“There will be layoffs. There will potentially be furloughs and other things,” he said. “This will not be easy.”

When asked about potential tax increases, Gordon indicated they are not off the table. “We are looking at all options because we know we can’t cut our way out of this crisis,” he said. 

The University of Wyoming on Tuesday released a draft plan for resuming on-campus education this fall. The plan envisions an educational experience with new health measures at every level of operation and a mix of online and in-person learning. It entails daily temperature and symptom checks of students and staff, and makes face coverings and social distance compliance mandatory in communal spaces on campus. 

“There are risks associated with bringing students back to campus, but the risks of not doing so are greater,” Acting UW President Neil Theobald said in a press release. 

It won’t be cheap. The university estimates the plan will require nearly $79 million in state funding to implement, the Laramie Boomerang reports

Two weeks after opening its two Wyoming entrances to limited use, Yellowstone National Park tested 43 employees for COVID-19. All tests came back negative. 

The front-line employees who were tested have been interacting with tourists since the park opened on May 18, according to a park service press release. The surveillance testing will continue through the summer, as outlined in the park’s reopening plan. 

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Yellowstone opened its Montana entrances Monday. The park’s primary concessionaire, Xanterra Travel Collection, announced it has begun a phased re-opening of its operations as well — including lodges, campgrounds, dining and tours. 

So far, travel data shows fewer visitors streaming into the park. Vehicle traffic from May 18-31 through the two Wyoming entrances was 70% of the volume for the same dates and entrances in 2019, according to the National Park Service. Vehicle traffic entering the three Montana entrances on June 1-3, meanwhile, was 45% of the same days in 2019.  

While many major rodeos have been cancelled this summer, the Cody Nite Rodeo won approval to start as early as June 15. Officials of the Wyoming State Fair in Douglas report that event is still scheduled for Aug. 11-14. 

Gordon on Thursday called these developments bright spots. 

“We’re very hopeful that this economic recovery will start to help allay some of the fears that we have,” he said. “But I have to be honest, these are scary times.”

Katie Klingsporn reports on outdoor recreation, public lands, education and general news for WyoFile. She’s been a journalist and editor covering the American West for 20 years. Her freelance work has...

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  1. In the past few days I have watched some not all of budget committee streams and today I watched about 501 c-3 findings and boards in Wyoming that are spending money. What revenues do three thousand plus boards and committees bring in Revenues to the State? One such 501-3c is the Senior Service Centers, which for all practical services is shut down, Sorry, I’m afraid these programs generate no funding today, yet a payroll is demanded, for those who work there. Essential for some true, overburden to others. When it is projected that the state pension plan entered the year underfunded by 2 billion a deficit likely to expand to reach a 3 billion shortfall. We could have had our ducks in order as far back as 2015 and 2016 for then we had slush funds, but we had to have a Dome and Seats and like usual we were going to bounce back in the cycle of boom and bust. Well, it is time to face the music we are busted and the road out will hit the second-highest business in Wyoming Government. Yet even this Governor knew it for he was Secretary of State before holding this title and had two years to prepare for these events in funding, yet did not make cuts or increase taxes. This legislative division of leadership based on 25 years of legislation failed, to incorporate official responsibility plain and simple which truly hurts the people of Wyoming.

  2. As a partial year resident of the great state of WY I try to keep up with the goings on in the state especially when traveling.

    The only two categories of statistics relevant to public health risk in the Covid-19 virus phenomenon are: 1. number of current hospitalizations and, 2. number of deaths per capita. Confirmed case numbers only are a reflection of the prevalence or lack thereof of testing and of little use to assessing public health risk.

    WY has done better than most states both in total numbers and per capita. I submit Gov. Gordon and his team overreacted in March and April and should have never shut the state down; for it is now greatly suffering financially as a result.

    The model employed by SD Gov. Noem would have been the proper course to follow., especially as to the issue of mandatory traveler/returning resident quarantine

    Thank you for providing this no cost Internet news site to those who love Wyoming.

    1. Stephen – I take some issue with you saying Wyoming has done better than most states in the two narrow areas you defined. Rather the relative low number of cases of Covid-19 across Wyoming everywhere off the Reservation literally and the Jackson Hole ski cult is more due to Pure Dumb Luck more than anything. Keep in mind the numbers are laid upon a geographically sparse state with the lowest population in the dead of winter with a state economy that was sluggish before the pandemic ; the lack of testing is alarminfg ; Wyoming never took the virus seriously and now is chomping at the bit to bust oput of the lockdown chutes … pathologically prematurely so.

      I live in Cody. where all the above is tantamount. next week Cody is reopening its nightly rodeo and will have its venerable Cody Stampede rodeo from July 1-4 . Recall the other five major rodeos are taking the year off. Cody Stampede sorta went along with that at first, then reversed course and bullied its way into getting permission from State Health to have their precious rodeos, in defiance of sensibility all around and totally contrary to the other rodeos. We’ll know soon enough if that was brilliance or stubborn ignorance.

      Myself being high risk I am not the least bit thrilled that Cody will soon be filling up with tourists from other states and maybe foreigners when the pandemic is still happening and twenty US states are showing steady or even alarming increases in infections. The flow says Cody escaped the virus during the winter due to luck and being forced to quarantine, but is throwing the gates open for the summer and all but inviting the virus to town . Go to the rodeo on Saturday night; get your free virus at Wal-mart on Wednesday morning…

      As far as I am concerned Guv Gordo and the State of Wyoming underreacted, and are caving to economic pressures now instead of staying the course on public health . please note the Special Session of the Wyoming Legislature called to determine how to spend $ 1.25 billion in federal relief funds did not even consider adopting Medicaid Expansion in time of great needs. Like I said , Wyoming really is not taking the pandemic seriously.

      There will be a second wave of it. Maybe we’ll get it right in the Do Over.