CHEYENNE – A mask mandate for Laramie County that will apply in many public spaces has been finalized and will take effect Monday, local health officials announced Friday afternoon.
With the number of active COVID-19 cases in Laramie County more than six times higher than at the start of October, local health officials deemed the mask order necessary to help slow transmission of the novel coronavirus.
Laramie County now joins Teton County as the only two counties in Wyoming to issue some sort of mask mandate. The Wind River Indian Reservation also has a mask requirement.
The order, which tentatively expires at the end of November, requires Laramie County residents and visitors to wear masks when inside of or in line to enter any retail or commercial business, when obtaining health care and when using public transit. Staff members of those businesses would also be required to wear face coverings when interacting with the public.
Certain people are exempt from the order, including those with medical conditions that prevent wearing a mask, those whose work prevents them from wearing a mask and those under the age of 18. The order still encourages minors who are above the age of 2 to wear face coverings.
The order also exempts faith-based organizations, though they are encouraged to follow safety protocols from the Wyoming Department of Health. Under the order, individuals are also exempt while actively exercising in a gym.
Additionally, the order applies in county and municipal buildings, but excludes state and federal buildings. Friday afternoon, however, Gov. Mark Gordon sent a memo and policy to state employees in Laramie and Teton counties, requiring them to wear face coverings in common areas of state buildings and in non-public areas when social distancing is not possible.
Gordon mentioned a recent memo from his chief of staff, Buck McVeigh, which noted “a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among state employees. Some have been hospitalized.”
The governor went on to say, “Nothing in this policy should dissuade anyone from wearing a face covering. ... Each of us is a member of a variety of communities. Your local friends and neighbors, your workplace colleagues and the residents of the state of Wyoming are a few of them. Thank you for your work, your dedication and your commitment to keeping all of our communities safe and healthy in these times.”
In addition, the State Building Commission – comprised of the governor and the other four statewide elected officials – has scheduled a special meeting for 2 p.m. Monday to consider a policy requiring members of the public to also wear masks inside state buildings in those two counties.
During discussion of the order earlier this week, Laramie County Health Officer Dr. Stan Hartman said the mask requirement was an effective way to slow the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19.
As of Friday, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center had 29 hospitalizations related to COVID-19, marking an all-time high for the facility since the pandemic began, with five of those on life support. One person who was on life support at CRMC has died within the past 24 hours, according to the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department.
“The goal is to keep businesses open, keep the economy as healthy as possible and keep people out of the hospital,” Hartman said of the order.
The order itself mentions hospitalizations as a key factor driving the decision, stating CRMC “serves patients not only from within Laramie County, but also many transients, tourists and residents from neighboring counties and states, who will further stress its capacity, making it critical that Laramie County take steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 so as not to overwhelm the local health care system in such a way that would result in many preventable hospitalizations and deaths.”
Laramie County hit nearly 700 active cases of COVID-19 on Friday – up from 107 active cases four weeks earlier. The county’s positive test rate, which local health officials have said they would like to see around 2%, was also up to 8.4% this week.
The order, which has the support of Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr and Laramie County Commission Chairman Gunnar Malm, will remain in effect through Nov. 30 “or until such time as the Laramie County health officer, with the state health officer’s approval, issues an order revoking or modifying this order,” according to the document.
Residents who fail to comply with the mask requirement could be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to a year behind bars, though it remains to be seen how strict enforcement measures will be.
Hartman and Jeanine West, director of Cheyenne-Laramie County Emergency Management, noted by email that although face masks are encouraged as people wait in line and vote, no one will be prevented from voting for not wearing a mask. Masks will be available at polling locations for voters who request them.
Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce CEO Dale Steenbergen, who had previously mentioned some concerns over the order, said he was glad to see a couple days had been given to allow local business owners to prepare. The order also allows seating at booths, a point some chamber members said was important.
“Those were two of our big concerns that were brought forward, and they were addressed, so we feel good that they at least listened to us on that part of our comments,” Steenbergen said.