Wyoming, in several ways, has been forever changed.
The new systems and techniques put into place during the past 100 days will continue on into the future, I predict. The biggest things will be statewide meetings being held with Zoom, distance education and telehealth medicine.
Wyoming people drive more miles per year than people in any other state, on a per-capita basis. We have good roads. We are small in population, but almost desperate to get together for meetings, it seems.
For 50 years, my typical Wyoming day might mean driving three hours to Casper or Rawlins or Rock Springs or Jackson or Cody or Pinedale for a two-hour meeting and then driving three hours home. In the summers, we would even make the 4.5-hour trip to Cheyenne for a meeting and then drive back home in the same day.
Some of the most impressive folks in doing these state meetings are members of the Legislature, who travel from one end of the state to the other for committee meetings. I have even attended legislative meetings in some of our wonderful towns like Newcastle and Evanston. Both are four-plus hours for me and eight hours apart from each other.
Our legislators have been meeting almost non-stop by Zoom, and I predict whenever this darned pandemic ends, that option will continue. The computer-generated meetings are not as comfortable as in-person meetings, but they certainly work better than anything else I have ever seen.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, showed me his calendar. It was crazy nuts with these remote meetings. We need to applaud our hard-working legislators for the time they are devoting to our current issues.
Years ago, the state created its own closed-circuit TV system as a way to eliminate the need for all that driving. The system was doable, but way more cumbersome than Zoom. You would go to a centralized location in your county and watch other folks on this big old TV. There were always bugs with it.
There is even a new phrase called “Zoom casual,” which means you can wear some kind of presentable shirt or even a sport coat and tie from the waist up. If you have your boxers or pajamas on the bottom, well, it doesn’t matter.
Another tricky thing with Zoom is now you can put a scenic photo behind you, so it looks like you are out in the mountains somewhere. Nice touch. But I digress.
Secondly, Wyoming has built billions of dollars in new school buildings. They have sat idle for the past three months, in most cases, and it can truly cause a person to wonder if they are needed? We had more than $100 million in new schools built here in Fremont County over the past few years. They are impressive, and I think they are great. But would they have been built in the wake of a COVID-19 crisis when the state is facing a $1.5 billion shortfall?
Distance learning has affected just about every student. Today’s kids are computer fluent anyway, but now 95% of the students have the ability to stay home and take their classes. What effect will that have on education planning going forward? You can anticipate that members of the Legislature are looking for places to cut expenses, and the state’s big education budget is a looming target.
Thirdly, telehealth is fantastic. With modern cellphones, laptops, tablets and even smart watches, people are able to monitor their health. It is not as good as in person, but health appointments will never go back to the old way. A frontier state like Wyoming is ideally suited for such a system.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 situation just keeps getting more interesting. Wyoming’s coronavirus numbers just blow my mind.
As I write this on June 28, here are some numbers to ponder:
• Wyoming population – 550,000
• Folks tested – 42,402
• Tested positive – 1,112
• Probables – 296
• Deaths – 20
• Persons sick now – 343
• Recovered – 1,057
The stats show 7.7% of the Wyoming population has been tested, with just 1.7% of those testing positive and dying.
Outside of Alaska and Hawaii, Wyoming appears to be the safest place in the USA if you do not want to die from the novel coronavirus. Alaska has 12 deaths and Hawaii has 17. Wyoming is sitting at 20 deaths.
I now fear we are living in a time of great overreaction. As I wrote in an earlier column, when we watched those scenes of emergency rooms in Italy and New York City, well, it just scared us to death. Most everyone wanted to shut things down to protect folks.
Original estimates of deaths for Wyoming were more than 150. Did our social distancing really save us from that number? There are a lot of doubters here.
The Cowboy State is now facing its biggest test with 6 million tourists headed our way. One Yellowstone employee told me recently that very few of the tourists are wearing masks. That may tell the final story.
As the state opens up, are we looking at a surge in cases? How does the virus fare in Wyoming’s windy and hot wide-open spaces that tend to be very, very dry?
Answers to the COVID-19 questions are still waiting to be known. But we are learning more each month as the days march on.