Amber Gonzales, owner of Muse salon in Lander, got back to work the morning of May 1, albeit with a new accessory. (Matthew Copeland/WyoFile)

The seventh week of Wyoming’s struggle with the pandemic ended with barbershops, gyms, tattoo parlors, day care centers and beauty shops reopening around the state as officials said more restrictions will be loosened soon.

Confirmed case counts statewide rose by 45 this week, though experts and officials have agreed that limited testing means such numbers do not accurately capture COVID-19’s presence in Wyoming.

On Sunday, April 26, there had been 370 confirmed cases and 132 probable cases. By Friday morning, the numbers were up to 415 confirmed cases and 144 probable cases. A probable case is one in which the patient shows symptoms of COVID-19 and was in close contact with a confirmed case, but was never tested. 

There have been 373 recoveries and 7 deaths, the lowest death count among the 50 states. 

Hospitalizations are low. Gov. Mark Gordon on Wednesday said the state estimated 13 people were in Wyoming’s hospitals because of the disease. 

Two of the counties most impacted by COVID-19, Laramie and Fremont, saw further case increases this week. Laramie County’s case count rose by 13, while Fremont, which is outperforming much of the state in testing its residents, saw its case count rise by 25. 

Gyms, tattoo parlors, barbers and cosmetologists opened in those counties nonetheless. Though Gordon and State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist have encouraged county officials to present unique plans for reopening, businesses named in the new orders do not need permission from county health officers to reopen. One exception is Teton County — state officials granted that county’s requests for a variance from the new health orders until May 11, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported

State campgrounds will open to Wyoming residents on May 15, Gordon said.

Some counties may reopen businesses faster than others. Officials in Crook and Weston county may soon request the state allow them to open restaurants, legislators from those counties said. Neither county has active confirmed cases.

Gordon and Harrist maintained they are ready to reverse course if COVID-19 metrics — case counts, rate of community spread, available hospital capacity — worsen. Closing anew after reopening would be costly to businesses, they warned as they urged residents to maintain preventative measures like wearing face masks. 

“If we aren’t purposeful we could face a potentially worse situation in Wyoming for both health and economic impacts,” Harrist said. 

Harrist described measured steps: loosen some restrictions, wait to see what happens to case counts and hospitalizations, then loosen more. 

Health professionals are trying to get people “that are sick and tired of the program” to maintain adherence with the health recommendations, Sublette County Public Health Officer Dr. Brendan Fitzsimmons told WyoFile on Thursday. “People are staying with us but … they’re not happy about it,” he said. 

After earlier criticisms for not going far enough with public health orders, Gordon is now celebrating what he calls Wyoming’s success. The state is ahead of those that enacted more stringent stay-at-home orders, Gordon said at a series of press conferences this week. 

Continued surveying by the University of Wyoming indicates most residents support his approach — 75% of respondents in a survey conducted on Monday approve of his handling of the pandemic. 

Support for the closure of restaurants, bars and schools and a ban on gatherings decreased from earlier surveys. A healthy majority of respondents still supported the measures, however. The survey found increases in the number of people wearing protective equipment, but a decrease in people avoiding physical contact and declining visits from friends and family. 

A fireworks company in Powell put on a free show for hundreds of cooped-up people who watched from their cars, according to the Powell Tribune. This week was Cheyenne’s turn to offer a parade for isolated nursing home residents. Douglas held one to for a hometown hero, the state’s new high school speech and debate champion, victor of a virtual competition.  

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Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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