Many people are giving Gov. Mark Gordon advice about what he needs to do in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, some of the wisest words seem to be unwelcome.

Gordon and seven other Republican governors are the final holdouts against issuing statewide “shelter-in-place” orders to slow the spread of COVID-19. More than 90% of the U.S. population is already living under these regulations.

The governor’s frustration with the criticism he’s received boiled over Friday afternoon at the start of a press conference. He first announced he was not issuing such an order but rather extending one that has closed many mainstays of life in Wyoming, including K-12 schools, bars, restaurants, childcare facilities, theaters, gyms, universities, colleges, trade schools, hair salons and barbershops.

He then recited the mantra he shares with healthcare professionals, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Stay at home, wash your hands, and keep at least six feet away from others. Gordon then complained that, instead of highlighting how his guidance echoes that of medical professionals, the media has emphasized that he hasn’t issued a shelter-in-place order despite the urging of the Wyoming Medical Society and some county health officials.

“It makes for a good headline, I suppose,” the governor said, then contended that he and physicians agree about the issue.

“[They] want you to stay at home and I am telling you to stay at home. What are you waiting for?” he shouted. “Are you waiting for ‘mother may I?’ Or are you taking care of yourself and practicing the common sense that we expect?”

Petulance has no place in the middle of a pandemic, and Gordon later apologized for his outburst. But his words reveal a fundamental disconnect.

I don’t think he understands that there’s a vast difference between encouraging people and businesses to do the right things to keep the virus from spreading, and his responsibility to protect the public by mandating that it happens. Leaving it voluntary isn’t cutting it, in Wyoming or anywhere else.

States like Ohio, California and Washington, which aggressively attacked the novel coronavirus outbreak through shelter-in-place orders that took people off the streets early, have seen the growth trajectory of both the number of cases and deaths significantly flattened.  

Dr. David Wheeler, president of the Wyoming Medical Society, sent a letter to Gordon calling for a shutdown to avoid “the horrific effects” of the spread of the disease.

“If we don’t act now, it’s certain that we’ll use up available supplies in weeks,” the Casper neurologist said at Gordon’s March 30 coronavirus press conference. “We hope that we don’t wait until the ERs are full of gasping people because by then it’s too late… We won’t avoid catastrophe if we don’t get ahead of it.”

Gordon is understandably frustrated. On one hand, he’s being attacked by people who think he’s doing too much and unnecessarily hurting the state’s economy, and on the other, by those who think he’s doing too little and threatening the public’s health.

University of Washington researcher Christopher Murray released on March 31 a statistical model that predicts Wyoming will see a total of 143 coronavirus-related deaths by Aug. 4. That forecast came with an important caveat: The figure would be that low only if Wyoming soon takes strict social-distancing efforts, including enforceable orders.

Meanwhile, about 54% of state residents in a poll conducted by the University of Wyoming Survey Analysis Center said they would support a statewide shelter-in-place order. That response is in line with the online comments during the live YouTube/Wyoming PBS broadcast of Friday’s news conference, where people seemed about evenly divided about Gordon’s refusal to issue an order.

Not surprisingly, some conservative politicians are applying pressure on the governor to allow businesses to reopen. Their reasoning mimics President Donald Trump’s absurd line about how “the cure can’t be worse than the disease.” 

“I don’t want anybody to lose their life, but we have to recognize reality for what it is,” Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette) told the Casper Star-Tribune. “I mean, people are going to get this doesn’t mean we have to shut everything down in the economy and then create more damage.”

Over time an economy can regain its health, but dead people are dead forever.

In an email to the newspaper, Wheeler wrote that Clem apparently doesn’t understand how beneficial early and tight lockdowns in China, South Korea and Singapore have proven. The doctor emphasized his point with a stinging rejoinder: “I don’t agree that we can salvage the economy on top of corpses.”

One of the factors in this controversy that seems to upset Gordon most is that loads of requests are coming his way from people who want their businesses exempt from any order he might put in place. Preventative strikes have already been launched by the state’s minerals industry and the Society of Professional Journalists, among others.

Gordon is a loyal Trump supporter, so I doubt he begrudges the president’s downhill buck-passing to governors like him. But he should be. This a national crisis and it calls for a unified national response. 

The failure of Trump to take decisive federal action early downgraded the fight against COVID-19 to a crazy quilt of poorly stitched-together responses. The states and the feds are currently competing against themselves to buy precious medical resources. The result is unnecessary, and likely deadly, equipment and supply shortages.

I guess an all-powerful executive branch is constitutionally critical when it comes to obstructing justice and neutering checks and balances. Too bad the president doesn’t see its utility in combating a life-and-death crisis.

Support informed commentary. Donate today.

Trump’s maddening response to the pandemic reached a new low on Saturday, when he told Americans to be prepared for “a lot of death” this week but added moments later, “We have to get back to work. We have to open our country again.”

The president’s confusing message is par for the course; he can stick to a script that has him pretending to follow the best medical advice available for only so long before revealing his customary disdain for science.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost expert on infectious diseases, shares the podium with Trump nearly every day to help explain how the battle against COVID-19 is going. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that his advice is routinely ignored.

During a CNN town hall last week, Fauci was asked why there is no federal shelter-in-place order. The doctor was as mystified as many Americans. “If you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that,” he said. “We really should be.”

On MSNBC Saturday, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) criticized Trump for continually undermining healthcare officials’ recommendations.

“He didn’t want to have stay-at-home orders, he wanted to pit parts of the country against other parts of the country,” she charged. “He wanted to create conspiracy theories about some states hoarding [personal protection equipment]. It’s absurd what he’s done, and unfortunately there are acolytes of this president who are governors today who just do what he does.”

Asked by CNN last week what message he has for those Republican governors, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-California) — who issued the nation’s first shelter-in-place order — offered the same question that Gordon posed to Wyoming’s media and the public: “What are you waiting for?”

“What more evidence do you need?” Newsom said. “Take responsibility and meet [COVID-19] head-on. You will never regret overcompensating.”

I hope Gordon heeds that advice.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

Join the Conversation

20 Comments

Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    1. Hey Tom,

      That particular drug has been pretty much discredited for any use associated with this pandemic response, but it does go to show whom you put your faith in as far as how to return to business; the worst president ever.

      We need testing (antibody as well active Covid) and social distancing work practices until a vaccine is developed or a plasma therapy that provides non infected personnel immunity from the disease. Wyoming, especially Albany County, has done an excellent job in bending the curve and we should throw in with the West Coast Plan to reopen essential as well other non group operations as soon as science and not snake oil says.

      If you would really like to understand the WYOMING laws that are being used for pandemic response please visit the following location https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/infectious-disease-epidemiology-unit/disease/influenza/pandemic-influenza/ and download the Wyoming’s Pandemic Influenza Response Plan.

      It will provide information on laws as well as Federal and State responsibilities. If you read the Federal responsibilities you will conclude we have been served poorly by this administration, but hey that’s the deal republicans made: destroy good governance in exchange for dismantling Roe V Wade. Elections and poor virus response have consequences.

  1. I’m curious what difference pro-order folks think it would make to have stay-at-home made “official” vs. our current guidelines. Would our law-enforcement personnel suddenly start arresting people who don’t comply and throwing them in jail? Would we round up all out-of-staters and dump them across the nearest border? (Though that does have al lot of appeal, it’s probably not feasible.) If people aren’t following current guidelines, is adding another (mostly unenforceable) law really going to change anything? My questions aren’t just rhetorical. I’d really appreciate having some (constructive & civil) suggestions from pro-order folks. Who knows, you might change my mind. ?

  2. I enjoy the drake report, it is good reporting most of the time. However on this topic I am torn, I agree with the Governor that most of the Citizens of the state are doing a good job of the social distancing (at least from what I have seen), however I spoke to a family member who lives in Saratoga earlier in the week. She stated that the hotels in Saratoga have quite a few occupants all out of state. She also said that she spoke to a couple of the gentlemen at the grocery who told her there was 8 of them in town all here to go fishing and all from around Detroit, they told her “well we figured we cant do any fishing in Michigan so we would all come out here”. Here is the issue of not issuing a shelter in place order, people think that since I cant work I will go on vacation, I be leave Michigan has been hit fairly hard by the covid-19 virus. Also the I read a report the other day that we sold a large amount of out of state fishing licenses recently, so not sure how the Govenor plans to stop this but they more people coming in and out of our state the higher chances of the epidemic spreading to areas of the state not hit yet.

  3. Gov Gordon said some days ago that if he issued a state-wide “shelter in place” order that it would be a complete shut down. That implies (or at least I infer) that would mean no exemptions, as there are in every other state with stay at home orders in place. (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/04/06/coronavirus-stay-at-home-by-state/ )
    Now, if Gov Gordon is to be taken at his word, then I imagine Mr. Drake and others urging the Governor to action would be a bit distraught when the police, fire, medical and grocery stores were no longer available.) On the other hand, what Governor Gordon has done is urged citizens to abide by essentially what the citizens of other states with their dictatorial edicts are forced to do (but many do not.) So GROW UP WYOMING do what you need knows to be done and opinionists such as Mr. Drake ought to be urging on such behavior, not trying to create a totalitarian state. Thank you Gov Gordon for trying to treat your adult citizens like adults.

    1. WOOPS: I am usually a proofreading fanatic. Dropped the ball on my entry here. Color me embarrassed. I honestly do have more respect for readers than to post mistakes like this. Particularly bad is 3 lines from bottom where “you need knows” should be “you know needs.” There are 2 others I see which I will let you puzzle over. In the meantime, everyone please stay safe and well. G’day.

  4. Decisive leadership?

    I think the leadership of the SD governor is the correct one.

    She says she has no authority to shut down the state or any business.

    Soon this scam will be uncovered for what it is.

    1. use of the word ‘scam’ implies that someone is dishonestly benefiting from this situation. since it sounds like you’re an expert, please enlighten us: what is the ‘scam’, who is promoting it, and what evidence do you have for this?

  5. Have anybody clamoring for the Shelter in Place Order actually read the Colorado order – or any other state’s shelter in place order? They are pretty broad, numerous businesses listed as essential and far less effective than what you are seeing in Wyoming right now. I read where there are 88 exemptions to essential business. – including pot shops? Weld County has 545 cases as of Tues evening and 29 deaths – and Colorado has had a shelter in place order since the 25th of March.

    I think the Governor is taking the right approach.

  6. Thank you Mr. Drake. I urged the Governor to listen to Dr. Wheeler and the Wyoming Medical Society, but to no avail. One of the Governor’s rivals in the last election, promoting her opinion that the rest of the world should know that Wyoming is “open for business,” has apparently been persuasive. My take away: every tragedy is opportunity for some.

  7. I was surprised by the push-back I got when I responded to a post by Bighorn Radio by asking when this situation was going to be considered seriously. What I got from reading the responses was, “so it’s okay for me to get sick and die as long as you have your freedom?’ I am not okay with “deepening my faith” by relying on God to protect me ( in reference to an email from the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce. “Trust in God, but tie your camel.”

  8. The “Drakes Take” has always been a partisan piece, I am surprised he lives in Wyoming. Maybe he doesn’t. If it were up to him Wyoming wouldn’t be Wyoming..

    1. Correct, Ken. This is some admirable detective work. I imagine your first clue was the word ‘Opinion’ immediately to the left of the author’s name.

  9. I’m glad I don’t have a “leadership” position. Gotta say, one perspective of the “shutdown” – it absolves people of thinking for themselves, taking any responsibility for their own behavior, does not require anyone to use any judgment. Even so trifling as “wash your hands. Stay home.”
    With a shutdown of sorts, a person can conceivably just “do as you’re told” and complain about That. And criticize whoever is the Leader.
    No one knows “what’s best.” Let’s all hope and pray and spend less time accusing.

    1. Unfortunately, it’s those who think (for) themselves invincible, use poor judgement and take no responsibility that put others at risk.
      By the way, I think you would do great in a leadership position.

    2. If everyone could be trusted to think, I’d agree with you Mary.

      Like smoking cigarettes, I’d be just fine with people not ‘social distancing’ if they were only endangering themselves by doing so. Trouble is, they’re endangering others, and can’t be trusted to simply ‘do what’s right’ on their own.

      And while you’re technically correct that ‘no one knows what’s best’, it’s a good bet that trained virologists and epidemiologists have a better grasp on how to curb the spread of this virus than, say, our president, or his son-in-law.

      For the same reason most of us would seek out an expert surgeon prior instead of our next-door neighbor, best friend from high school, or cousin, we should trust experts in this situation as well.

  10. Governor Gordon has shown good leadership in this crisis. The same people who called Trump a tyrant for 3 years are now calling for National house arrest?

    1. First, Tory, you don’t know it’s “the same people”, necessarily. It might be, but you don’t know this. You’re free to believe it, same as you’re free to believe that the tooth fairy is real.

      Second, federal, state, and local governments exists largely to protect us from the stupidity and selfishness of our fellow humans. This is precisely why we need strong government intervention right now. Inconvenient though it may be, it is necessary in a country whose population is ~325 million.

      Third, if you’re truly a resident of Buford, I’m curious how you would operate without the conveniences that you unknowingly enjoy *because* of federal and state governments. You could not drive a gasoline-fueled vehicle, let alone use I-80. The costs of growing and transporting the food you eat would likely mean trouble for you eating, unless you figure out a way to grow and process your own corn and soybeans behind your residence. If you have kids, you’d be home schooling them. If you need meds, you’d be developing them and paying for them on your own.

      My instincts tell me you’re not capable of doing all of these things at once, same as me, and same as any other person.

      In short, to even reside in a town with as small a population as Buford (or state with as small a population as Wyoming), you depend on the very government you and many others rage against.

      There’s some nuance to this situation, inconvenient though it may be for people to not paint with a broad brush.

      1. Not against government at all my friend! Just against house arrest and one size fits all policies.

        God bless working Wyoming citizens and Governor Gordon.

        1. Excellent–my apologies for jumping to that conclusion. Here’s a compromise:

          The problem is that it’s not just about what an individual wants, doesn’t want, believes, or doesn’t believe.

          This is a public health challenge, for which one individual’s decisions have the potential to harm others. By the same token, I support smoking bans in airplanes, not because I care if a smoker gives him/herself lung cancer, but because I don’t want them to give me lung cancer.

          The same logic applies during a pandemic.