Campbell County Commissioners approved an application for a countywide variance that will allow bars and restaurants to open to the public with certain restrictions.
Now it’s up to Dr. Kirtikumar Patel, the county public health officer, and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state public health officer, to approve or deny the variance.
The application was submitted to Patel on Monday, and after his review and approval, it will be forwarded to Harrist.
Until it gets state approval, area restaurants and bars are to remain closed to indoor seating as part of the state’s COVID-19 pandemic precautions.
“I just want to let everybody know we’re doing the best we can,” said Commissioner Rusty Bell at a meeting Monday afternoon. “The decision is left up to the state. It doesn’t lie in our hands.”
The variance, as it was written when it was submitted, would allow bars and restaurants to serve customers in their buildings while operating at no more than 50% occupancy. Bell pointed out that the state might change some of the language before approving it.
According to the variance, tables are to be spaced at least 6 feet apart. Food and drinks must be served to the customer, and self-serve and buffet services will not be allowed at this time. Sitting and standing at bars and counters also would be prohibited.
At 11:30 p.m., bars and restaurants must close their doors and have all customers out. Employees must be checked for symptoms before they start working. When preparing food, they’re required to wear personal protective equipment.
Each group of people may only have one member in an establishment’s indoor waiting area. The rest of the party are to remain in their vehicles until a table opens up. Groups can be no larger than six people, preferably from the same home.
Bell said the language in the county’s variance application is “more flexible” than any other from around the state that he’s seen.
Commissioner Del Shelstad said he and Bell have worked with local bar and restaurant owners on the variance to make sure they have buy-in.
The variance has an opening date of May 8, which is Friday, but that could be pushed back depending on how quickly the state makes a decision. The commissioners don't know when they’ll hear back about the variance, and Bell said he doubts the county will hear anything before Wednesday.
“It’s out of our hands, just like a lot of this stuff,” he said.
Additionally, Commissioner Colleen Faber is working with Campbell County Public Health on a variance application for places of worship and funeral homes.
Other variances already approved
Since allowing counties to request variances from state public health orders last week, the state health officer has approved applications from seven counties.
Most of the variances were for outdoor dining for restaurants and bars, as seen in Natrona, Park and Sheridan counties. However, indoor dining was allowed in Lincoln and Washakie counties.
In all cases, the request for variances from county health officers contained guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Those included limiting tables to six people, keeping tables 6 feet apart, requiring staff to wear cloth face covers and the full disinfection of the businesses daily.
Niobrara, Platte and Sheridan counties won approval for church services, which required a variance from the state health order limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer. The adopted variances require that household groups stay at least 6 feet away from each other, that no more people be allowed in a church than can be accommodated with social distancing guidelines and that church leaders and staff use face masks.
In the cases of both restaurants and churches, people interacting with members of the public are to be screened to determine whether they have symptoms of coronavirus or have been in contact with a person who has been diagnosed with coronavirus.
State officials also granted a request from Teton County for a variance that would let the county keep its gyms and businesses providing personal services closed until May 11.
State count up to 444
As counties around the state made progress Monday in reopening businesses closed by the coronavirus, Wyoming’s confirmed case count increased by nine to total 444, largely due to increases in Fremont County’s case count.
The Wyoming Health Department reported six new coronavirus cases in Fremont County on Monday, bringing the county’s total to 128. Laramie County reported three new cases.
Fremont County health officials have said that increased testing and contact tracing would lead to a significant increase in the number of cases in the county.
As of Monday afternoon, Fremont County had 128 cases; Laramie County had 104; Teton County had 67; Natrona County had 38; Campbell County had 15; Converse County had 14; Sheridan County had 12; Johnson and Sweetwater counties had 11; Albany had eight; Lincoln and Uinta had six; Carbon, Crook and Washakie had five; Goshen had three, and Big Horn had two. Hot Springs, Niobrara, Park and Sublette counties each had one case.
Platte and Weston counties remain free of any confirmed cases of the illness.
In addition to the 444 confirmed coronavirus cases in Wyoming, the Health Department said the state has 152 unconfirmed “probable” cases.
The Wyoming News Exchange contributed to this report.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with more detail about what restrictions would still be in place if the county's variance were granted, other variances from around the state that already have been granted and overall state coronavirus cases.