By Ryan Fitzmaurice
Big Horn County officials are awaiting fast-approaching modified state public health orders that will allow portions of the economy to re-open.
Governor Mark Gordon in a 3 p.m. press conference Thursday said Wyoming will begin the process of incrementally easing current restrictions while still safeguarding its population from COVID-19, with modified health orders being prepared to be released in the upcoming days.
The new health orders will extend to May 15, Gordon said, and will outline the initial steps toward relieving restrictions on Wyoming businesses.
“We need to slowly relax these restrictions and get ourselves ready for the new normal of 2020,” Gordon said.
Gordon stated that the upcoming orders to be released next week would partially lift restrictions on barber shops, cosmetologists and gyms.
The easing of restrictions will be determined on several metrics at the state and county level. Those metrics are the number of new cases, the percent of cases attributed to community spread, the percent of all tests that are positive, the total COVID-19 admissions reported by hospitals, total hospital bed availability and total ICU bed availability.
Statewide, those metrics are being measured under three classifications: improving, stabilizing and concerning. Percent of cases attributed to community spread and total COVID-19 admissions reported to hospitals are both classified as concerning. The other four metrics are classified as stabilizing. No metric has been classified under improving.
As restrictions are eased, counties will be able to individually apply for variances, Gordon said, allowing local regions to further ease restrictions or increase restrictions with state approval.
“I’ve said before this will not be a light switch,” he said. “We are building a plane as we are flying it, and with your help we’ll keep it in the air.”
In a COVID-19 incident response team press conference at noon Thursday, county officials expressed both optimism and caution regarding the incoming orders.
“We would encourage you to remember we’re not completely out of this yet,” Sheriff Ken Blackburn said. “The shark is not out of the water. Right now, we have everyone out of the water and we’re looking to let people back in to start swimming. The shark is still in the water.”
Blackburn said that it is important for those who are most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 to continue to isolate themselves, even as actions are taken to ease restrictions.
The process through which impacted businesses are allowed to re-open remains unclear at this time, county officials said, but businesses that are re-opening need to put thought into how they will operate with the threat of COVID-19 a continuing reality.
Blackburn said if the state does require that businesses submit plans, the county will not be prepared to accept those plans until Monday.
“That gives you time to get your plan prepared, follow this stuff up and come up with procedure to protect the vulnerable population,” Blackburn said. “Look at how that works in your facility. Maybe it’s a restaurant and you need to continue to have curbside for some people, or keep every other table empty.”
Big Horn County Public Health Response Coordinator Chad Lindsay referred to guidelines released by the federal government detailed at https://whitehouse.gov/openingamerica/. Business owners should restart business in loose alignment with those guidelines, Lindsay said.
“If it was me and my business, I would probably look at this document, look at this website and ask myself, are we going to have our employees wear PPE (personal protection equipment) and what is that going to be? I would highly suggest cloth masks for all employees and customers,” Lindsay said. “Think about the vulnerable population. Think about sanitization.”
Lindsay said social distancing efforts should continue to be a priority.
“We’re going to want to keep it up, we don’t know how long (COVID-19) is going to last,” Lindsay said. “We’ve heard a lot in the news about second waves.”
Big Horn County Public Health Manager Hillary Mulley said that the county is actively preparing for a possible second-wave, later in the year.
“They are expecting is the second wave to hit in January, when flu season typically hits,” Mulley said. “That is another thing we have to prepare for.”
Chris Kampbell, the Basin chief of police, encouraged all entities to continue their efforts to stock PPE.
“If you have PPE that you’ve ordered, we need to keep those orders active. We need to have that PPE on hand when the next wave comes,” Kampbell said.
Payroll protection update
With a new $484 billion relief bill working its way through the U.S. Congress, Amy Quick of the Wyoming Business Council said businesses should begin applying now to gain access to the replenished Payroll Protection Program funds.
“Get an application ready now,” Quick said. “…Start visiting with your lender and get in the queue. We expect that money to go quickly as well.”
County clerk Lori Smallwood said the county expects many businesses that didn’t make the first round of funding to make the second round when the funding becomes available.