A state-wide mask mandate has not yet been implemented, but one could be on the way as Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon promises more restrictive changes in the coming weeks.
“It’s time that Wyoming woke up and got serious,” Gordon said, speaking during a news conference Nov. 13.
In response to a question regarding whether his office is considering implementing a statewide mask mandate, Gordon responded with “We are thinking about every aspect that we can do.”
He added that his point has never been to simply wear masks, but also for the citizens of Wyoming to display a sense of responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding public spaces when feeling sick. But it has not happened, or at least not to the degree that Gordon wanted to see.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the choice to wear masks has been left largely up to the individual with Gordon shying away from issuing any official, statewide mandates like those seen in neighboring states. In addition, restrictions have been gradually lessened. But as those restrictions lift, the number of new COVID-19 infections has risen.
The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) recently reported a “surge” in new cases, documenting a total of 924 new COVID-19 cases on Nov. 12 alone. This brings the statewide total to 17,442 lab confirmed cases with 9,949 recoveries and 7,493 cases remaining active.
Currently, Wyoming sits number four in the nation for new COVID-19 infections, a fact that Gordon is none too pleased with.
Wyoming has seen recently the most deaths and hospitalizations ever due to COVID-19 infections, Gordon said. The state’s resources remain under enormous strain with hospitals and healthcare facilities statewide struggling to keep up, including Campbell County Public Health where half of all medical staff are out due to a recent COVID-19 outbreak (County 17, Nov. 12).
Help is on the way for struggling medical facilities across the state, who are seeing an influx of patients from South Dakota, where hospitals have already reached their limits, but there is a limit to how many doctors can come to Wyoming’s aid. Any doctor that comes to Wyoming would be leaving behind their own battles with COVID-19 on their home fronts, and there’s a possibility they could be less effective as they enter facilities they may or may not be familiar with, Gordon advised.
Yet, despite all the struggles healthcare professionals face with the influx of new COVID-19 infections, personal responsibility to prevent the spread of COVID-19 seems insufficient.
“We are being knuckleheads about this,” Gov. Gordon said, expressing his disappointment that, despite having a firm faith the people of Wyoming would step up and show responsibility, quite the opposite is true.
“We relied on people to be responsible, but they’re being irresponsible,” Gordon said.
A recent survey from the University of Wyoming found that, of 503 residents surveyed, while a majority have changed their daily habits to include wearing face masks, 39 percent refuse to do so.
Additionally, while some individuals may choose to wear face masks, the UW survey found that less than half of the residents surveyed wear their face masks indoors. A much greater problem given that the holidays, and the time of family gatherings, are right around the corner.
Mike Ceballos, WDH Director, said that while he’s seen new infections come from all aspects of Wyoming’s communities, he’s also seen it coming from small gatherings. The need to unwind and socialize with friends poses problems, especially with growing concern of COVID-19 spreading via asymptomatic individuals.
Ceballos’ concerns mirror that of public health officials nationwide, several of whom have carried out investigations that led them to small, private social gatherings – a so called “behind-doors transmission trend,” according to the Washington Post.
Reportedly, more and more people across the nation are reflecting pandemic fatigue and are paying less attention to potential risks associated with small gatherings of family and friends. Such risks include choosing to forgo face masks and not practicing social distancing guidelines and trusting that healthy-looking family members and friends are not infected because they have no symptoms, according to a report from the State of Colorado.
“Asymptomatic COVID individuals then cause ongoing transmission, frequently infecting multiple people in a single gathering,” the report concludes.
In Wyoming, the number of asymptomatic people has grown to the point that tracing them has become impossible, Ceballos said.
However, Gordon does not wish to stop Wyoming residents from enjoying their holidays, rather, he wishes the public would do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19 while enjoying their Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas mornings. But if they do not, the governor may have no choice but to act.
“If I can’t rely on you, we’re going to have to do something else,” Gordon stated, advising that a weeklong extension of current health orders has been requested while he works closely with the WDH to see what sort of changes will be enacted in the coming days.
“There will be changes. They will be more restrictive,” he added.
While the governor firmly believes in Wyoming’s ability to reign in the soaring COVID-19 numbers, the best bet could come from the newly emerging vaccine, though residents will not be forced to take it.
Should the state come together, vaccine or not, Gordon remains optimistic in the hearts and spirit of the people of Wyoming.
“People are hurting,” Gordon said. “It’s time to do what Wyoming did in 1949, where neighbor helped neighbor during the worst blizzard Wyoming has ever seen.”