A face mask mandate has been put in place for Park County in response to the increased spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The order requires wearing a face mask under most circumstances, inside all retail or commercial businesses, governmental buildings, medical facilities and taxis.
The order began Wednesday and will run through Dec. 4. Park County Public Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin presented his decision to the county commissioners during a virtual meeting Tuesday morning, and every member present gave verbal approval to the move. The state approved the order Tuesday, which is considered a variance because it is stricter than the current statewide order.
Billin admitted there won’t be any enforcement of the mandate at this time and finds that to be a different undertaking. Although supporting the order, commissioners Lee Livingston and Lloyd Thiel doubted its effectiveness.
“Having a mask mandate is one thing, enforcing is another,” Billin said. “Nobody is looking for people to come into a business and haul you away because you’re not wearing a mask.
“I know that’s a sticky wicket and is not going to be solved anytime soon.”
Cherie Fisher, owner of the Village Shoppe, said every resident should be wearing masks, but believes self-enforcement is the only way to really achieve this.
“I really believe everybody has to protect each other,” she said. “A mask order won’t stop stupid.”
Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric said he thinks “most people will comply whether they agree with it or not” but will consider prosecuting any charges brought to him by law enforcement.
“Each case is reviewed on its own merits taking into account multiple factors, including strength of the case, seriousness of the offense and current agency resources,” he said.
He said he finds it “unlikely” his department will receive any.
Cody Police Chief Chuck Baker said his officers will focus on “ongoing education efforts … to seek voluntary compliance.”
“Park County Law Enforcement staff, Deputies and Police Officers will set the positive example and implicitly adhere to the Public Health Order,” Baker said in an email. “Park County Law Enforcement will continue to respond and investigate calls for service from business owners who report disputes or disturbances related to the face mask requirement, law enforcement will only take the appropriate enforcement action if necessary.”
Businesses must post signage alerting customers to the order.
The Cody and Powell chambers of commerce are giving out free signage for businesses to display as a way to remind customers of the order.
Those dining inside restaurants would be allowed to remove their face masks when reaching their table, but still must wear a face covering when entering and exiting the building or moving around within the establishment.
Those with a medical condition or disability that would be exacerbated by wearing a mask are excluded from the order.
Minors are excluded from the order as well, but children 3 years or older are encouraged to wear a mask.
Those who are not in contact with customers or are working in a room that customers do not enter do not need to wear masks if by themselves.
People in situations where wearing a mask would interfere with their ability to perform or receive services such as a job or while receiving medical care, personal identification, all activities for the hearing-impaired, are also excluded from the order.
Few outdoor scenarios apply in the order besides those waiting in line outside a business establishment.
There was one difference in the order approved by the state in comparison to the stricter request that was submitted by the county. That order was supposed to last until Jan. 4.
Billin said the order is coming in response to Gov. Mark Gordon’s press conference last week, where he seemed to indicate a statewide mask mandate could be put in place if case numbers and spread of the virus do not improve this week.
Billin said the governor is clearly in support of masks as well as local control in regards to a mask mandate.
“I believe that’s what he was asking us to do,” Billin said.
Many people have criticized mask wearing throughout the pandemic.
“As a lifelong researcher, I’ve learned that masks not only don’t stop COVID, but through hypoxia and rebreathing our own bacteria cause nasty health problems,” resident Mike Johnson said. “So any mask mandate from government, employers, schools or businesses only harms the people they’re trying to help.”
Billin admitted, in hindsight, the county went too far with its lockdowns last spring. He said part of the reason for the new order would be to avoid similar lockdowns to businesses and schools in the near future.
During Tuesday’s commissioner meeting, Park County Nursing Manager Bill Crampton said he and Billin had received complaints they had been going over the heads of the commissioners in making their decisions.
“I don’t believe in doing stuff willy nilly,” Crampton said. “That one kind of bothered me. I don’t believe it’s true.”
The drafted order was shared with the commissioners, mayors and other community members before being submitted to the state. Since he is not an elected official, Billin technically does not need to take this step before enacting orders, but is doing so as a gesture of cooperation.
“I may not have liked it, but we knew,” Livingston said.
Also during the meeting, Thiel apologized for email comments he made to Billin on Friday evening after first seeing the drafted order. He said wording criticizing Park County residents for not doing their part in wearing masks drew his ire. There was no message to this effect in the submitted draft or approved variance.
“I really don’t have issues with what you’re trying to do,” Thiel said. “This whole COVID (-19) thing has everybody so stressed out.”
Last week, Commissioner Chairman Joe Tilden announced he contracted COVID-19. The commissioners are currently in quarantine, which is why the meeting was held virtually. Tilden did not participate in Tuesday’s meeting.
As of Tuesday there were eight hospitalizations in Park County. The county’s presence of the virus dropped on Monday to 107 active cases, a 25% decrease since Saturday. City of Cody wastewater testing showed a 0.3% decrease to a 6.5% presence of viral shedding in the community while Powell stayed at 2.4%. Those receiving tests are testing positive at a 12.9% rate.
There have been 1,092 Park County cases since the pandemic began. Around 30 cases were removed from this total recently due to duplicate cases being entered into the system.
Twelve of Wyoming’s 23 counties have submitted a request for a face mask mandate, with Albany, Teton, and Laramie already approved for such.
Nationwide, 36 states have a face mask mandate.
The Wyoming High School Activities Association recently announced it is requiring mask wearing at all of its winter sports and activities, including spectators, participants and coaches. Those involved in strenuous activity during these events do not need to wear a mask.
People performing general exercise in a gym do not need to wear a face mask as well.
The new requests come after 21 county health officers, including Billin, sent a letter to Gordon on Thursday calling for a statewide mask mandate.
Statewide, there were 744 more active cases on Tuesday than the day before, and also 11 new deaths. Reproduction rate for the virus has worsened to 1.17.
Although recovery from the virus typically occurs within 14 days, Billin said some immunocompromised patients may take up to 20 days to recover. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that those who test positive continue to wear masks even after recovery because there are documented instances where people have caught the virus twice.
Wyoming now has the country’s fourth highest number for new cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days and improved to the seventh highest deaths per capita per day. On Saturday, 17 Wyoming deaths due to the COVID-19 virus were reported. There have been four official Park County deaths to the coronavirus so far, and Billin said there are two additional deaths that occurred at Powell Valley Healthcare that have not yet been officially announced because their death certificates are not yet finalized.
He said a few infected individuals were recently transferred to Powell Valley from Cody Regional, and similar trends have occurred between St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings and North Big Horn Hospital Clinic in Lovell.
“If these are the things we’re being forced to do, we know this is getting serious,” Billin said.
Mask order regulations
• Masks must be worn inside all governmental buildings
• Masks must be worn inside all businesses by customers
• Masks do not need to be worn by employees working in rooms customers do not enter and no other non-household members are also inside of
• Masks must be worn in all contacts by employees when interacting with customers
• People do not have to wear masks while in outdoor spaces
• All minors older than 3-years old are recommended to wear masks but are not required to
• Masks do not need to be worn by people who have medical concerns from wearing masks
• Masks do not need to be worn by people giving or receiving medical care a mask would conflict with
• Masks do not need to be worn while exercising in gyms
• People do not need to wear masks while sitting at a restaurant table, but do need to for all other activities in that business
• People should continue to maintain six-foot social distancing from non-family members and avoid social gatherings
• People should stay home when sick whether or not they have taken a COVID-19 test
• People should frequently wash their hands