As Wyoming’s COVID-19 crisis reaches a fever pitch, the Wyoming Republican Party’s governing body passed a resolution calling on Gov. Mark Gordon to rescind his declaration of a state of emergency.
Gordon’s declaration, passed March 13 by executive order, directed the Wyoming Department of Health and the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security to take actions to respond to the virus. It created legal authority for the subsequent public health orders that early on included closing businesses and to date impose some restrictions on businesses and public places.
A copy of the resolution posted to Facebook by the Goshen County Republicans argues Wyoming is not experiencing an unduly high number of deaths from COVID-19 and that the orders were only intended to “flatten the curve” at the virus’s onset.
“The state’s restrictions on the right of individuals and business owners to make a living in support [of] themselves and their families continues to greatly damage the citizens and economy of the Great State of Wyoming,” the resolution reads. It then calls on Gordon to “immediately rescind” his declaration of a state of emergency.
Wyoming Republican Party chairman Frank Eathorne and executive director Kathy Russell did not respond to requests for comment from WyoFile.
The resolution was passed Nov. 14 at the Wyoming State Republican Central Committee meeting in Newcastle, according to the document. As of Monday afternoon, the Wyoming Republican Party had not posted the resolution to its own Facebook page or its website.
However, the party’s central committee sent a copy of the resolution to Gordon, his spokesperson Michael Pearlman said. The central committee, made up of party members elected at the county level, sets the platform and policy positions of the state’s dominant political party.
The governor’s office did not have any comment on the resolution, Pearlman said.
The central committee has sought to exert increasing influence over the votes and positions of state Republican lawmakers over the last few years, extolling them to vote in accordance with central-committee approved positions at least 80% of the time. A copy of the resolution will be sent to all Republican state senators and state representatives as well as the Wyoming Supreme Court, the resolution states.
Some of those GOP lawmakers are sick. Two prominent state senators — Senate President Drew Perkins and Senate Mineral Committee Chairman Jim Anderson — recently announced they were infected with COVID-19. Rep. Roy Edwards, a conservative stalwart who also pushed back against health orders, died Nov. 2 after being hospitalized with COVID-19.
Gordon indicated in a Nov. 13 press conference that officials were crafting new public health orders as a COVID-19 surge rocks the state.
Officials have reached out to business leaders and local officials while crafting those orders to generate “buy-in” from leaders around the state, Pearlman said after the press conference.
Wyoming had 191 hospitalized COVID-19 patients on Monday, according to the Department of Health. The agency announced 17 more COVID-19-related deaths Saturday. More than half of the state’s 144 deaths have been announced in the last month. The state currently has the fourth highest per capita death rate from COVID-19 according to New York Times data.
Gordon has consistently called on citizens to exercise personal responsibility by wearing masks, keeping their distance from one another and practicing good hygiene. He has touted his government’s “light touch” in imposing orders and has to date avoided a statewide mask mandate or more restrictive rules on bars, restaurants and public spaces.
“We’ve relied on people to be responsible, and they are being irresponsible,” Gordon said at the press conference. Gordon declined to elaborate on particular forthcoming orders, but said a mask mandate is not off the table. “There will be changes,” he said. “They will be more restrictive. We are looking at every aspect of what we can do.”
More businesses have closed because of sick employees as the virus runs rampant through Wyoming towns and cities than because of public health orders, Gordon said. Some of the state’s key industries, like trona mining, are suffering productivity slowdowns because of COVID-19 cases, he said.