Update: This story was updated with new information received from the Wyoming Department of Health. There are now 12 counties with mask mandates and two additional counties have pending applications.
Masks are now mandatory for county employees, following a decision by the Campbell County Commissioners during their regular meeting Tuesday morning.
The mandate passed with a majority of four commissioners in favor, and one against.
“We’re having a lot of people out due to quarantine,” Commissioner Rusty Bell, who voted for the mandate, said during the meeting. He added that the measure “makes sense” because of how effective masks have been in Campbell County schools.
Commission Chairman DG Reardon, who was also in favor of the mandate, stated that the county, as servants to the public, has a duty to continue serving as best as they can.
“The last thing we want to do is to close the courthouse down, so anything we can do to help stop spreading the disease is going to be helpful in the county government and the county buildings,” Reardon said. “That’s the idea behind this mask mandate.”
Commissioner Colleen Faber said that while mask wearing is common among county employees, the actual mandate would help keep the mask wearing more consistent.
“We want to keep things open,” she said. “We want to keep the county open. I think this is a step that we’re trying to show forth for the Governor.”
Faber added that if the county takes precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19, then there could be less demand for restrictions in the future.
“This is what we can control in our sphere, and we’re going to do our best,” Faber said.
Commissioner Del Shelstad stressed the importance that the mandate, while effective immediately for all county employees, is not a precursor for a county-wide mandate requiring citizens to wear masks, which he said he is staunchly against.
Shelstad also stated that the masks are not the only thing county residents can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that future measures also need to include proper hand washing and adhering to social distancing guidelines.
“It’s time for us to start taking some things seriously without infringing upon our businesses being open and our people doing what they feel is right, individually, regarding whether they wear a mask or not,” Shelstad said.
Bob Maul was the only commissioner to vote against the mandate, expressing concern about the ways in which mask wearing might negatively impact communication between emergency response dispatchers and the public.
“We can’t afford to have that with officers in the field,” Maul stated, adding that he’s witnessed situations where responders have had to “drop” their masks to communicate effectively.
As a potential solution, Maul voiced the possibilities of allowing dispatchers to use plexiglass shields, such as those seen at the county elections office recently as well as at other businesses and restaurants throughout the county.
Reardon concluded that the county commissioners will not be taking action to enforce a potential mask mandate.
“We’re not going to mandate it,” he said. “We’re not going to have the sheriff’s office out there arresting people or issuing tickets and the county attorney having to prosecute it,” he said. “That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to encourage people to wear masks.”
An inquiry as to how many county employees were currently out due to the coronavirus quarantine was not responded to as of press time.
Growing statewide mask mandate
Twelve Wyoming counties – Albany, Carbon, Goshen, Hot Springs, Laramie, Lincoln, Natrona, Park, Sheridan, Sublette, Sweetwater, and Teton – and the Wind River Reservation now have policies in place requiring residents and visitors to “wear face coverings at retail or commercial businesses, when obtaining health care and when using public transit,” per a Nov. 13 release from Governor Mark Gordon’s office and an update received from the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) earlier today. The employees of those businesses are also required to wear face coverings during any interaction with the public.
In consort with the State Building Commission, a policy was also adopted this week requiring any face covering requirements of a local jurisdiction to apply to state buildings.
“Our collective response to these deteriorating conditions is critically important if we expect Wyoming’s government, our businesses, and thus our economy to function,” Gordon said. “Wyoming’s schools, day cares, businesses, and government offices are all potentially facing challenges. We each can do our part to control the virus by taking the actions we know will work. We need to take care of our family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.”
Two Wyoming counties currently have requests for mask mandates pending, including Washakie and Converse counties, according to Kim Deti, public information officer with WDH.
The mask mandates have to be approved by State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist and the Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill. Deti did not have a timeline for how long the review process might take.
Jen Kocher contributed to this story.