In a screenshot from a July 7, 2020 video posted on Twitter, Gov. Mark Gordon accepts a “mask challenge” from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. Gordon has been a vocal proponent of mask use, but was called out this week after a picture on social media showed him mask-less at the Wyoming GOP convention. Gordon takes the criticism to heart, he said during a press conference. “I will continue to try to do a better job every day wearing a mask,” he said. (Screengrab/@GovernorGordon Twitter)

Debate over mask use flamed up in Wyoming this week as COVID-19 case counts continued to rise statewide, and the state mourned a new fatality. 

Daily counts of new positive COVID-19 test results increased by double-digits each day, extending a troubling weeks-long trend. Monday’s figure of 37 was the largest single-day increase in new positive tests since the pandemic was first documented in the state in March. 

Recovery numbers also saw significant gains, but it’s the rising number of active cases, which numbered 449 as of midweek, that Gov. Mark Gordon continued to cite as alarming.

“Our numbers keep rising, and I think that’s of concern,” Gordon said during a press conference Wednesday. “Many of our counties are reporting increases in new cases and we have hundreds of people under quarantine here in Laramie County … It is important that we wear masks, that we take care when we’re out to social distance … all the things that we’ve been talking about.”

Gordon’s personal practices were questioned, however, after photos were posted on social media of him not wearing a mask during the recent GOP convention. In response to a reporter’s question about it, Gordon said he’s not perfect, but that he strives to be conscientious about COVID-19 and will be more careful. 

“I will continue to try to do a better job every day wearing a mask,” he said. 

All told, the state added 116 new confirmed cases between Sunday and Friday morning — five more than the previous week’s count. The state has reported 1,428 total confirmed cases as of Friday, while its total recoveries sit at 1,043.

There have been 21 deaths related to the virus. One new death, that of a Laramie County man previously identified as a laboratory-confirmed case, was reported Tuesday. The man had no apparent health conditions known to put patients at higher risk of complications due to COVID-19, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. 

Hospitalizations ticked up to 13 on Wednesday before dropping to 12, though they remain far below the April 20 peak of 23. Hospital capacity remains ample, DOH data shows. Of the state’s 120 ICU beds, 41 were reported to be in use Thursday — though it’s unclear how many of those are related to coronavirus. Of the state’s 177 ventilators, meanwhile, one was in use Thursday.  

Gordon’s mask flap was one instance of an issue that’s being debated across Wyoming and nationally as leaders in places like Texas and Washington make mask use mandatory in response to spiking cases.

In Jackson, the town council held a special meeting to approve an emergency mask ordinance just in time for the July 4th holiday weekend, the Jackson Hole News&Guide reports. That action came on the request of business owners who expressed frustration with customers refusing voluntary compliance. 

Laramie’s City Council will consider pursuing a similar mask measure during its next available meeting, according to the Laramie Boomerang. With local institutions such as the University of Wyoming and several businesses already requiring masks, councilman Paul Weaver told the Boomerang it makes sense to implement a city-wide order. 

Xanterra, Yellowstone National Park’s largest concessionaire, also announced that masks are required at all its indoor facilities and in certain outdoor scenarios, the Jackson Hole Daily reports

Even Wyoming’s U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney chimed in, tweeting a photo of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, wearing a mask along with the message: “Dick Cheney says WEAR A MASK. #realmenwearmasks”.

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Masks are also a large part of the conversation school districts across the state are having as they map out plans for resuming school in the fall. Districts are using statewide guidance released July 1 and tailoring plans to their individual communities.  

Another tough conversation unfolding across the state is about budgeting. Gordon’s cabinet has submitted the 10% budget cuts he requested earlier this year in response to forecasts of plummeting revenues, he said, and it’s only the beginning. 

The next round, he said, “will be even harder” as officials are forced to consider cutting “some really very precious programs and some very valuable people.” 

The Wyoming Department of Corrections will begin testing its entire inmate population and staff for the virus next week. To date, the department has reported no confirmed cases among Wyoming’s incarcerated, making Wyoming one of only two states, along with Hawaii, to do so.  

“We want to confirm our zero COVID-19 status,” DOC Director Bob Lampert said in a statement announcing the testing. “Due to the recent uptick in the incidence rate of COVID-19 in various communities in Wyoming, we want to be extra cautious.” 

Katie Klingsporn

Katie Klingsporn is WyoFile's managing editor. She is a journalist and word geek who has been writing about life in the West for 15 years. Her pieces have appeared in Adventure Journal, National Geographic...

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  1. “No shirt, No shoe’s, No service” a notice found in many Wyoming restaurants/businesses for the past many years.

    Why being asked to wear a paper or cloth mask is so much more onerous than the above?

    Is it because putting on a mask, after putting on your shoes and shirt, is too damn much effort?

    Feel free to take off your shirt, your shoes, and the rest of your clothing that society expects you to wear if that is what you need to be free.

    Just please wear a mask to protect your friends and family in the community until this pandemic is over.

  2. I am a person who believes in looking at evidence and making decisions based on that evidence plus some thought on what might be other consequences of these decisions. Making masks mandatory is not only a health policy, it is a social policy too. I find the entire debate dispiriting.

    First, the Laramie City Councilman is quoted as saying ““I think the data is backing it up as far as having an impact on coronavirus spread, so why would we not do that?” he said.” There is this common refrain of there being “ample evidence” of efficacy to quote many mask advocates. I would love to know what this ample evidence is? No one will answer that question.

    I have a list of seven randomized clinical trials conducted in the 2000-2016 time range which were unable to find significant benefit of masks in flu and common cold transmission. On the other hand, since January I have found two studies suggesting the importance of wearing masks against COVID19. One of these is actually just an editorial, and the other compared spread of this novel virus in various countries, and attributed mask wearing to differences among them, but could not even quantify mask usage — it was not the sort of sober assessment needed at such a time.

    Let’s examine masks themselves. Even N95 masks, which are designed and manufactured to a standard , will stop 95% of particulates between 0.3 and 0.5 micrometers in diameter. A COVID19 viron is somewhere between 0.07 and 0.12 micrometers, and an aerosol particle from a sneeze, the smallest of which can pass through pores of an N95 mask, could pass a minimally infectious load of virons — at least it is not unreasonable to assume so. Now we come to home made masks. They are made according to no exacting standard, made of varying materials of varying manufacture, and have not been subject to any test of effectiveness. Some are nothing more than bandanas. They are reused and not worn to any standard whatsoever. One can see that many (I would say all) of these masks are defective by visual inspection. They leak around nose, beards, and cheeks. They are ill-worn, with people wearing even them under their chin when convenient, or removed to speak to people who cannot hear one another, and even removed in what used to be considered the “dangerous” environment of restaurants. We can’t even measure compliance.

    Now consider the social aspects. With no objective reasons or measures for initiating mandatory mask orders, we have no objective criterion by which we can safely abandon these policies, except that the authorities might eventually give us a green light. However, given what I have said in the above summary, why wouldn’t we soon be required to wear masks in cold and flu season? What would a generally bemasked society eventually be like? Presently the arguments between not-masked and bemasked is not at all civil and has ugly partisan tones. I have genuine concern that mandates not backed up by clear evidence and goals, but backed up by coercive measures is leading us into a not-nice society.

    A famous statistician, Frederick Mosteller, once suggested we should treat public policy as experiments — carefully designed and then measured and analyzed rigorously to produce credible evidence about what works and what doesn’t. Right now I see nothing in our response to the COVID19 epidemic, even beyond the current issue of masks, that will lead to knowledge of what worked and what didn’t.