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”.
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.”