Even as more businesses began to reopen and Gov. Mark Gordon continued to tout Wyoming’s success, week eight held signs the coronavirus virus was far from done with the state.
Wednesday brought the single highest spike in new confirmed cases since the state’s COVID-19 battle began. There were 27 newly reported cases, 24 of which were in hard-hit Fremont County. Data released by county officials revealed spread in Riverton — 71 confirmed cases come from that town.
But elsewhere, 13 counties have received approval from State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist to reopen restaurants along with churches and even bars. The reopenings come with rules for increased hygiene and decreased human contact. Statewide, the Wyoming Game & Fish Department will resume selling the short-term fishing licenses sold most often to out-of-staters, while Gordon announced he would let an order requiring a 14-day quarantine for visitors to expire.
Jackson and Cody warily eyed the potential opening of a Grand Teton National Park facility over Memorial Day weekend as a harbinger of limited park openings.
While the increase in new cases was concerning, Gordon said in a Thursday press briefing, other metrics he, Harrist and other officials are using to make decisions regarding restrictions are “stabilizing.” There were nine COVID-19 patients in hospitals as of that day, he said. That’s down from 14 cases at this time last week.
The state paused Campbell County’s efforts at reopening bars and restaurants after a worrying new case emerged there. A teen female who tested positive for COVID-19 had been in contact with a high number of people considered vulnerable to the disease, the Gillette News Record reported Wednesday. County health officials are seeking to test and trace the girl’s contacts, the newspaper reported.
Before such setbacks, Gordon joined the governors of four other Republican states — Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Arkansas — to pen an op-ed in The Washington Post celebrating that those states had stayed “open for business” and were better positioned for economic recovery.
The White House made the column the lead of its daily news roundup. President Donald Trump has been advocating a quick economic reopening.
The economic hurdles Wyoming will need to overcome keep piling up. Coal’s downturn — where reduced energy demand from the pandemic has pushed the struggling industry into increasing trouble — spread this week into the state’s railroad industry. BNSF Railway announced it will lay off 130 workers in the state and close two facilities, one in Guernsey and one in Rozet, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. The company cited a “projected lower demand” for commoditiy shipments.
The Wyoming Economic Analysis Division reported 700 fewer oil and gas jobs in the state in March when compared to March 2019. It’s not clear if the pandemic’s impact was captured in the report.
Most sectors of Wyoming’s economy continue to suffer from the pandemic. Representatives for the state’s lodging, dining, mining and nonprofit sectors all made dire reports to the Legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee on Thursday. The committee was considering a bill to spend $25 million-$50 million of the state’s share of the CARES Act in a loan program for businesses.
Gordon summoned the Legislature for a special session to begin on May 15 to consider legislation that could distribute around $500 million of the $1.25 billion in federal stimulus funds Wyoming has received. Leading lawmakers have been preparing for a special session for weeks.
In Sheridan, local technologists are renovating and distributing donated devices to plug senior citizens into the digital communication dominating American social life today, the Sheridan Press reported. In Evanston, local innovation came from a body shop, where mechanics designed a one-of-a-kind vehicle for the county to transport COVID-19 patients, according to the Uinta County Herald.