This graph shows the daily number of active coronavirus cases in Wyoming since July 13, 2020. Active cases dropped below 500 this week. (Wyoming News Exchange)

As Wyoming marked the one-year anniversary of the pandemic’s arrival in the state Thursday, more than 108,000 residents had received their first COVID-19 vaccine shot while active cases had dropped below 500 for the first time since September. 

In response to the three-month-long positive trend of COVID-19 metrics, Gov. Mark Gordon lifted the statewide mask mandate and relaxed remaining restrictions on bars, restaurants and theaters, effective March 16.

Gordon thanked Wyoming residents for “their commitment to keeping one another safe throughout this pandemic” in a Monday press release announcing the changes. 

“I ask all Wyoming citizens to continue to take personal responsibility for their actions and stay diligent as we look ahead to the warmer months and to the safe resumption of our traditional spring and summer activities,” he said. 

Face coverings will continue to be required in K-12 schools.  

The decision to ease restrictions came despite The Centers for Disease Control urging continued caution, recommending that even fully vaccinated people take precautions in public places like wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding crowds. Gordon also recommended the continued use of masks in indoor public spaces. 

In the Capitol, lawmakers debated several pieces of legislation regarding the authority of public health officers, the issuance of public health orders and the state’s pandemic response, underscoring how the events of the past year are still top of mind. 

Of the roughly half-dozen pandemic-related bills that have been introduced, three advanced this week.

Senate File 80 – Public health orders-local and legislative oversight would give the Legislature and local elected bodies like county commissions more oversight of public health emergency declarations and the issuance of state and county health orders. 

Senate File 30 – Pandemic response review task force would create a task force to study the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including public health orders, the state health officer and local public health officers’ authorities, schools’ responses and more. 

House Bill 127 – Public health amendments would require approval from elected officials for orders persisting beyond 10 days that affect the broader community while still allowing health officers actions such as quarantining or isolating infected individuals as they are now conducted. 

Speaker of the House Eric Barlow (R-Gillette), the bill’s sponsor, said his aim is to separate orders that pertain to the disease itself and individuals who are actually infected by it from broader activities that may be aimed at preventing transmission. An example of the former would be quarantine orders for sick individuals, he said, while an example of the latter would be travel restrictions.

Speaker of the House Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, speaks to members of the House March 11, 2021, in the House chamber inside the state Capitol. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

In his experience as a veterinarian, Barlow said, “we would treat the diseased animals differently than we would populations that we’re trying to protect … I say we leave disease with the actual health professionals and we deal with prevention of transmission in a political manner.”  

SF 30, the pandemic task force bill, appears to have the most widespread support of all the pandemic measures, enjoying backing from the governor’s office, the Wyoming County Commission Association and the Wyoming Medical Society. 

“I think there is near universal agreement on the fact that we need to do an after-action review on an event as major as this,” Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) said during floor debate of the bill. 

“I think this is a good way to go,” Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) said, noting that the people of Wyoming “are very divided” on the state’s pandemic response.

“That’s why we’ve got to take it and raise it up a step,” Case said. “It’s going to earn credibility as we go forward and have an honest evaluation and reach out to the people of Wyoming and see what they think.” 

At the one-year pandemic milestone, Wyoming’s infection numbers and vaccination rollout continued to improve. 

As of Thursday, more than 108,000 Wyoming residents had received a first vaccine dose, while nearly 68,000 had gotten their second. The state has received 139,280 first doses and 87,425 second doses. 

Known active COVID-19 cases dipped to 458 by Monday, the first time they have been under 500 since September. Seventeen people were hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Thursday. The Department of Health reported nine COVID-19 related deaths — bringing the state’s total to 691. 

All told, Wyoming has tallied 46,676 lab-confirmed infections. That includes 348 new cases this week.

Wyoming’s unemployment rate dropped from 5.2% in December to 5.1% in January, according to the Department of Workforce Services, and remains lower than the national rate of 6.3%. But the pandemic’s economic damage remains profound. Wyoming lost more than 27,000 jobs between the second quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020, according to the Wyoming Labor Force Trends recent quarterly update. Two industries, leisure & hospitality and mining, accounted for more than half of the lost jobs, according to the report. 

As the state lifted restrictions, Teton County moved back into its “orange” moderate risk level following an uptick in cases, according to a press release. Teton County health officials will try to reinstate a local mask order in the face of the state order being lifted, the Jackson Hole News&Guide reports.  

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One lawmaker asked State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist this week when the state will consider the pandemic over. 

“From an epidemiological standpoint we’re looking at controlled levels of transmission, and from a vaccine standpoint we’re looking at a time when every person has the opportunity to get the vaccine should they want it,” Harrist said. “We do hope that that time is approaching although we do have a little ways to go.” 

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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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