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Authorities Urge a Common-Sense Approach to Mask Mandate, New Public Health Restrictions

Prosecuting Campbell County residents for violating a new round of government health orders, including Wyoming’s first state-wide mask mandate, will not be a priority, officials say.

Any citations could be rare given local law enforcement leadership’s hard stance to avoid criminalizing residents who elect not to wear face coverings in public spaces and otherwise violate standing public health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re not going to go out and be the mask Nazis or anything like that,” Campbell County Attorney Mitch Damsky said Tuesday, advising of his office’s stance to utilize a “common sense” approach when dealing with citations for health order violations.

This comes a day following Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon’s announcement that he was enacting four new health orders to take effect Wednesday, requiring among other restrictions that residents and business employees wear masks in public spaces and on public transportation.

Gatherings are also restricted to fewer than 10 people, per the new health orders, while bars are to be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. for “on site consumption.”

The new orders likewise impose stricter sanitation requirements for fitness facilities, which are now required to ensure their patrons always maintain 6 feet of distance from each other.

These orders take effect Dec. 9, but local law enforcement will not seek to impose fines forcing obedience. Instead, their goal will be to educate the public on the benefits of adhering to public health orders for the overall safety and health of the public, according to Campbell County Sheriff Scott Matheny and GPD Police Chief Jim Hloucal.

“The enforcement of Public Health Orders is not a law enforcement priority at this time,” Matheny said in a statement. “We hope that all members of our community will be respectful of each other and do their part to keep each other safe. We are hoping for a safe holiday season despite the situation that we are all placed in.”

Hloucal advised that business owners retain the right to ask people violating health orders to leave their businesses if they so wish, promising that such requests will be backed up by the Gillette Police Department, though they do not plan to aggressive enforce the orders on their own.

“We haven’t issued any citations since the beginning (of the pandemic), and we’re not going to start,” he  said.

That said, if people make trouble about the health orders and law enforcement is called to settle it, the county attorney’s office will prosecute based on the judgement of law enforcement, Damsky said.

But it is his ultimate wish that such action will not be necessary, especially if residents use common sense and remain courteous to each other.

Wyoming is the commonsense state, Damsky said.

The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.