Commissioners Submit Variance Application to Open Bars and Restaurants

Downtown Gillette restaurants/bars
Downtown Gillette restaurants/bars

If the Campbell County Commissioners have their way, local bars and restaurants will reopen by this Friday, May 8. Voting unanimously at their Directors Workshop May 4, the commissioners green-lighted an application for a countywide variance order with certain operating exceptions that was submitted Monday to Campbell County Public Health (CCPH) Officer Dr. Kirtikumar Patel for approval, per a late Monday night release from CCPH.

Pending Patel’s sign-off, the application will then go to State Health Officer and Epidemiologist Dr. Alexis Harrist for final approval.

The variance is in response to the third continuation by the State Public Health Office on April 28 that closed schools, bars, restaurants and other public spaces. Under the variance from the commissioners, local restaurants and bars with licensure could open but will be required to operate at no more than 50% occupancy in both outdoor and indoor seating. Tables must be spaced no less than 6-feet apart to provide proper social distancing as defined under existing statewide public health orders.

These establishments will also be required to close by 11:30 p.m., per the variance.

Buffets and self-service will still not be permitted to operate under the variance nor will patrons be allowed to sit or stand at bars or counters, and self-serve condiments will only be permissible with proper sanitation.

Employees will be required to have their temperatures taken and be screened for symptoms prior to every shift, which will be time stamped and recorded by service industry staff, and those who display symptoms or have been in contact with a COVID-19 infected person within the past 14 days will have to wait for the prescribed-quarantine period before returning to work. Employees will also be required to wear masks and gloves when handling food and menus that will have to be sanitized before and after each use.

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Waiting areas at these establishments will also be modified under the new restrictions to allow only one member from the party to wait inside for a table and entries and exits may be modified to allow for the 6-foot distancing rule. Further, guests will be encouraged to use non-signature payment with card readers sanitized after each use.

Gaming machines will also be required to be separated by 7-feet or more or turned off if appropriate spacing is not an option.

Commissioner Colleen Faber also submitted a second variation application requesting the opening of religious entities and funeral homes.

A similar variance to open outdoor seating at bars and restaurants for up to six people at tables six feet apart was just approved by Harrist in Natrona County, per reporting by Wyoming News Now. In Platte County, where there haven’t been any reported COVID-19 cases, religious organizations and funeral gatherings are allowed gatherings. Sheridan County has also submitted two seperate variance applications. One for modified outdoor seating and dining at Sheridan County bars and restaurants, and the other would allow for modified church services. All include prescribed public health social distancing measures.

The question now is whether Patel will give the go-ahead.

In a special commission meeting Friday night, in which commissioners discussed the details of what should be included in the variance, Patel was vocal about his caution for making decisions in haste. Citing the testing of 28 staff members at Campbell County Memorial Hospital who had recently come into contact with an asymptomatic COVID-19 lab-confirmed case during a medical procedure. Patel expressed concern for a potential uptick in cases and community spread if existing restrictions are eased too rapidly.

“I’m doing it for the betterment of the community,” he told commissioners Friday. “It’s not about making a decision for the masses. It’s a question about the one person who has died because of decisions we made.”

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In the case of the Campbell County variance, he asked, who will be responsible if something detrimental happens as a result?

“You guys are putting this together from a legal point of view,” Patel told them, “but the signature is mine.”

It’s a heavy decision to make, he added, and somebody needs to understand that.

Commissioners acknowledged that ultimately the decision was out of their hands, but noted they had buy-in from many local bar and restaurant owners.

As of Tuesday morning at 8 a.m., Campbell County remains at 15 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases with 13 recoveries, two of whom required hospitalization. In addition, CCPH has monitored nine probable cases with nine recoveries, along with an additional 208 possible positive households of which five households have since recovered, and tested 416 residents total, per CCPH.

Over the weekend, the total count grew by nine COVID-19 cases statewide with new cases reported in Converse, Fremont, Laramie and Teton counties, per WDH.