Virus FILE Coronavirus with COVID-19 over it

CHEYENNE – The first few restaurants that received a drop-in visit from the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department were appropriately following the health orders in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department Executive Director Kathy Emmons made check-in visits Saturday to two restaurants, both of which she selected from a handful of places that residents have complained about to the county health department.

“Everybody was doing a great job,” Emmons said in an interview Monday. “Our goal isn’t to go out and search around trying to find people, but it’s when we know there are repeat offenders who are basically saying, ‘We’re not going to do what the orders require us to do’ – that’s when we’re going to get involved.”

Officials from Laramie County and the city of Cheyenne announced the compliance checks last week in response to a local increase in COVID-19 cases since early June, following roughly two weeks in which the county was reporting no new cases.

The health orders currently in place require restaurants and bars to maintain 6 feet of distance between separate groups of patrons, restrict table sizes to no more than six people and post signage about social distancing.

Under state law, citations for breaking the public health order could cost from $100 to $1,000. But it would take a blatant disregard of standards to force a citation to be issued to a business owner, said Emmons, who noted “we have a couple of those, too.”

Health officials could call in the Cheyenne Police Department or the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department to report a noncompliant restaurant, if necessary, though CPD spokesman Officer David Inman said the compliance checks will mainly be left to the county health department.

“If (health officials) want us to enforce an action, violation of a health order is a statute, and we can enforce that,” said Inman.

The checks will continue in the coming days, said Emmons, adding the visits are meant to be educational, rather than punitive.

“When we do get complaints, we’ll make calls, we’ll go visit,” she said. “It’s not a ‘gotcha’ situation. It’s really trying to figure out – do they understand what they’re supposed to do?”

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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