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The Albany Restaurant manager Maren Kallas puts closure notices on the windows of the restaurant and the Albany Liquormart Thursday, March 19, 2020, in downtown Cheyenne. The Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department issued an order Thursday to close restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters, clubs and other public facilities for two weeks in an effort to limit spread of the COVID-19 virus. Exceptions for curbside service, drive-through windows and delivery have been made for those businesses, but seating areas will remain closed. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Laramie County Health Officer Stanley Hartman issued an order Thursday morning closing some public places, including bars and restaurants, in light of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county.

Later Thursday afternoon, Gov. Mark Gordon issued a similar order in conjunction with the state health officer to close some public places, including schools, theaters, bars, nightclubs, coffee shops, employee cafeterias, self-serve buffets, salad bars, unpackaged self- serve food services, gyms, conference rooms and museums.

These closures will last through April 3.

Restaurants can still utilize curbside take-out or drive-thru food service, and child care centers will also be closed except for those who serve essential personnel.

“We realize this action will be very difficult for many of our residents,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist for the Wyoming Department of Health. “But it is an important step to help them avoid becoming ill and to help them avoid spreading COVID-19 to those who are most vulnerable. We should all work together to help keep our friends and neighbors safe.”

Local elected officials are aware of the order, including the Laramie County commissioners. Hartman said he issued the local order in light of the recently confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Laramie County and in line with guidance coming from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, President Donald Trump’s recommendations and the Wyoming Department of Health.

Hartman said in a news release that he “supports and encourages members of the public to practice social distancing in an effort to slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our county, which will flatten the curve or the spread of this virus. We recognize that these are extraordinary actions, but COVID-19 is a serious public health challenge. This decision was not taken lightly, and will hopefully increase positive outcomes for our community.”

The local closings are effective as of Thursday, March 19, and include all theaters (film or stage), bars, nightclubs, saloons, taverns, self-serve buffets, salad bars, unpackaged self-serve food services, golf clubs, country clubs, all communal pools, hot tubs, locker rooms, sauna rooms, fitness centers, gyms, conference rooms, museums, tasting rooms and any other “like” establishment or indoor recreation center.

All of these facilities are ordered closed in Laramie County, including the cities of Cheyenne, Pine Bluffs, Burns, Carpenter and Albin.

Restaurants can remain open for drive-thru or curbside takeout, but dining in these restaurants is prohibited. Cash payments are strongly discouraged, while online and telephone payments using credit cards are encouraged.

Anyone handling cash or credit cards isn’t allowed to be involved with preparing, handling or delivering food.

Kathy Emmons, Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department executive director, said that at this time the previous three confirmed cases in Laramie County appear to be isolated. There was a fourth confirmed case in Laramie County later Thursday afternoon that was a close contact to one of the other previously confirmed cases, according to a news release. (Editor’s note: These numbers differ from WTE reporting for Thursday’s edition due to conflicting information received from various sources. From here on out, we will be relying on reporting by the Wyoming Department of Health and the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department.)

Wyoming has 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases as this time, and the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory has done about 300 tests, Harrist said. More tests are also happening at commercial laboratories, and a nationwide shortage of testing supplies is also impacting Wyoming, like other states.

As the testing for COVID-19 continues, that number is anticipated to increase, Emmons said. She said Hartman’s decision wasn’t an easy one to make, and he really waited to see what was happening in Laramie County. The tipping point for Hartman was when the numbers started to go up.

“It obviously was not an easy decision to make, we really waited to see what was happening in Laramie County – this was an issue that has been out there for over a week,” Emmons said. “As our numbers starting going up, that became the tipping point.”

Emmons said people are encouraged to self-isolate and not be in large group gatherings to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Mayor Marian Orr and Cheyenne City Council President Mark Rinne issued a joint statement on the closings, saying they will last for the next two weeks.

Essential city services, such as first responders, sanitation and snow removal, will continue to operate during this period. The statement added that Cheyenne has some of the finest public servants, and Rinne and Orr are grateful for the work they continue to do.

The two added that they are disappointed with the decision to restrict business in Cheyenne, but they understand why the decision was made.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 is a new strain that we do not know much about. This strain appears to be more virulent than previous strains that we have dealt with. In addition, the mortality appears to be higher than the influenza that we normally deal with,” the statement said.

“Consequently, governments around the country and the world are taking steps to control the transmission of COVID-19. The worst-case scenario is that the disease spikes so rapidly that our ability to treat patients is overwhelmed. Those are the reasons that we have to take such aggressive measures.”

Orr and Rinne said they want to express sympathy for those affected by this decision, and the next few weeks will be difficult for everyone – particularly those who are trying to get by without income.

Orr said she’s disappointed with the decision because it comes from a sense that more jobs are going to be lost. She said she believes that this will have a devastating financial impact on the community in the short term.

“I don’t think that any one of us really know what the full effect is going to be,” she said.

Orr is working with city officials and the Downtown Development Authority to look at what other communities are doing to support businesses during this time. The city is also working on a disaster relief fund where people can apply for micro grants to help them get through the month or pay rent.

She said the decision by some banks to prolong loans is a good thing, and Orr also mentioned that people can talk to their landlords about being more lenient on rent for the month.

She said those are some ways Cheyenne can come together as a community. She added that this is a very fluid situation, and as she learns of other resources, she will be communicating them to the public.

Laramie County Commission Chairman Gunnar Malm said the decision to close and restrict some businesses wasn’t made lightly. He said the commissioners were in conversations with Hartman, and Hartman made it clear that he felt this was in the best interest of the health of Laramie County.

He added that the commissioners were on the phone with U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, both R-Wyo., in light of the recent federal legislation passed to figure out how to navigate the new resources that were made available.

The commissioners are also asking people to do what they can to support local businesses, such as buying gift cards or ordering take-out food. Malm is encourage everyone to keep in mind those values that Wyomingites hold dear, including perseverance, compassion, taking care of the vulnerable and looking out for the less fortunate.

George Kallas, co-owner of The Albany Restaurant, said people can order food by phone that will be available for curbside pickup. He added their liquor mart will still be open during this time, and the best thing people can do to help businesses is to patronize them.

“We’re just going to have to weather the storm,” Kallas said. “We need to understand we need to stop the spread of the virus.”

Dale Steenbergen, president and CEO of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is posting a bunch of COVID-19 resources for businesses on its website. He also said the Chamber is planning to start doing conference calls with people to help them go through the process of getting disaster relief opportunities.

They’re also working with businesses that might have to lay off employees to direct those employees to businesses that are still hiring during this time.

He said the best form of combating economic impacts from the closures right now is to shop local. He said he knows a lot of people are ordering goods online now, but he said it’s important to remember that local businesses have these, as well.

Shopping local now will help these places repair more quickly when the mandated closures are lifted, he said.

Local businesses are places that people knocked on their door asking for support for their kids’ T-ball team; now it’s people’s turn to support them, Steenbergen said.

He added that having a positive attitude is the most effective weapon people have at this time. People have to remain positive and remember their blessings. He said we live in a pretty wonderful place and remembering our humanity now will help the situation moving forward.

Buying two years worth of toilet paper doesn’t do anything for that individual, Steenbergen said, but it harms their neighbor.

Isabella Alves is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at ialves@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter at @IsabellaAlves96.

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