Many recent local COVID-19 diagnosed cases have come from large gatherings like weddings, retirements, and from eating and drinking establishments, according to the Park County incident management team.
It was a wedding attended by local residents recently that has proven to be a particular cluster spot, with multiple people testing positive who attended. One of these individuals was a Park County road and bridge employee, two were the daughter of Park County Commissioner Lloyd Thiel and likely her 3-year-old son.
“This whole thing is blown out of proportion,” Thiel said. “We’re getting more cases because we’re doing more testing.
“It’s nothing different than any other flu.”
Thiel said he has not had contact with his daughter since the wedding as she lives in Billings, so he does not plan to get tested.
He said if people are concerned about risks of getting the illness, they should self-distance or stay at home.
“I’m not saying in rare cases it can’t be serious,” Thiel said. “Every flu bug can be serious.”
Thiel said he has spoken with three county residents who have been infected with COVID-19 and he believes there have been many false negative cases in the county. He said those to whom he has talked to have had a 1-2 day recovery.
Bill Crampton, Park County public nurse, said many local businesses are not doing a sufficient job adhering to the health order guidelines.
The current state health orders mandate face masks be worn by all bar and restaurant employees and staff at large events. Social distancing is to be adhered to as much as possible.
“The business owner is responsible to follow the health orders by providing masks to staff, ensuring frequent handwashing and providing distancing between patrons,” said Kim Croft, public information officer for the Park County incident management team.
Crampton said the department will not issue fines and can only provide reminders to follow the orders to businesses that it receives complaints about.
“Unfortunately, our federal leadership has put us in a bad position,” Crampton said. “The messaging has not been real consistent. People don’t know what to believe. They don’t want to believe us.”
When asked about enforcement of state health orders, Gov. Mark Gordon said during a May press conference local communities can use their own discretion about arrests on violation of orders.
“We’ve erred on the side of thoughtful and safe, and our orders are much looser than any other state,” Gordon said. “That said, I think it’s incredibly selfish of some to put others at risk when they choose to disregard the health of others in the community. They are putting county attorneys in awkward situations.”
Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin said state public health orders are law according to Wyoming state statute.
“The rest is up to law enforcement,” he added.
Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric said his department has received no complaints from any law enforcement, health staff or members of the general public regarding any businesses in violation. He said if they do, these reports will be judged on a case-by-case basis, taking prior warnings into account before deciding whether to press any charges.
Violation of health orders can bring misdemeanor charges of up to 6 months in prison and a $100 fine, or a more serious up to 1 year in prison and up to $1,000 fine.
“We certainly hope we don’t have to utilize those statutes,” Skoric said, “Everybody’s hoping businesses and residents the orders apply to will comply with the orders.”
On June 10, the Wyoming Legislator shot down a bill to heavily restrict the powers of state and county health officers. “Public health orders-2” was introduced into a sub-committee by Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette), and would have required public health officers to prove the scientific necessity for their public health orders, forcing officers to use “the least restrictive means necessary.”
If the legislation had passed, health officers would have only been able to issue orders for 21 days. After that, they would have to go before a district court judge to argue the scientific validity of their orders, before granting an extension.
“It would have been forcing the judicial branch to do the job of the executive,” Billin said. “If the courthouse was on fire, county commissioners wouldn’t be enlisted to tell the fire department where to put out the fire.”
The current state health orders have been in place since June 15, and were recently extended through July 15.
Billin has included scientific data with every county-supported exemption and variance request submitted to the state. He supports the decisions state health offier Dr. Alexia Harrist has been making regarding the state health orders.
“I think she’s shown great restraint,” Billin said. “She knows Wyoming would not be New York City.”
Park County has the fifth most active cases in Wyoming and the ninth most total cases per 100,000 residents. Even Natrona County has fewer active cases than Park County. Three of the four counties with more active cases than Park have a larger population.