CHEYENNE — During a Thursday news conference, Gov. Mark Gordon said the state will be revising its public health orders next week with “significant changes,” including added seating capacities within restaurants.
The announcement came just one day after Wyoming reported its highest number of new COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.
With the state reporting a record number of new and active cases this week, Gordon said he was not interested in imposing additional restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, his team is looking to ease restrictions on restaurants upon the expiration of existing orders Sept. 30.
“One place we are not seeing large numbers of cases emerge is from restaurants, so we are looking at expanding the seating capacity of restaurants,” Gordon said. “We want to ensure those businesses can adjust to the coming fall and winter, when outdoor dining will be more difficult.”
With Albany County reporting the highest number of active cases this week, Gordon said recent spread was partially due to young people “going into bars and spending a lot of time there.” But the governor added the increase in cases was coming from many places, rather than a single cluster.
“We have transmissions occurring in long-term care facilities, through extracurricular school activities, businesses and social gatherings, both in public and in private,” Gordon said.
The discussion came as Wyoming’s numbers of new and active COVID-19 cases have steadily risen this month. As of Thursday, Wyoming’s two-week average of new COVID-19 cases sat at about 64 cases per day — far above the pre-September high of about 41 new daily cases being reported in late July.
The state reported 137 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, a record, and the number of new cases again grew by more than 100 on Thursday. Wyoming also saw its 50th confirmed death from COVID-19 earlier this week.
One encouraging sign, however, is that spread of COVID-19 has been limited in Wyoming’s K-12 schools, most of which opened about a month ago.
While nearly 100 cases of COVID-19 have been detected among students and staff in Wyoming schools, State Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said they were unaware of any significant transmission occurring between two masked individuals within a classroom.
“As a result, we are changing our quarantine protocols for K-12 school settings,” Harrist said during Thursday’s news conference. “Specifically, we no longer recommend quarantine if a potential school exposure occurs while both the infectious individual and the close contacts are wearing face coverings.”
Harrist also said the state was planning to ease some restrictions on visitations to long-term care facilities, with hopes of allowing safe, indoor visits through new guidance to be released in the next few days.
Around Cheyenne, the COVID-19 numbers haven’t risen nearly as much as in other parts of the state. The number of active cases in Laramie County has hovered around 50 for the last week and a half, rising to 64 on Thursday, as the virus has surged elsewhere.
Kathy Emmons, executive director of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department, credited the lack of a local spike in cases to a few factors.
“I have to believe that part of it is because we do contact tracing quickly and early, and get people quarantined so that they’re not out potentially spreading the virus,” Emmons said.
“I also completely believe that the people in Natrona County and in Albany County, I don’t think they’re wearing masks to the level that they are here,” she added. “That’s from talking to people in my positions in those other counties.”
Echoing comments made repeatedly by Gordon and Harrist, Emmons reiterated the importance of social distancing, wearing a mask, washing one’s hands and staying home when sick as measures to prevent spread of the virus.