The state of Wyoming is taking slow and deliberate steps to reopen the economy.

Gov. Mark Gordon said Thursday it will be a balanced approach, one driven by “data, not dates,” that emphasizes public safety while getting people back to work.

“In Wyoming, we know if you put your garden in before the last frost, you could lose that entire garden,” he said. “That’s why we’re being as careful as we are.”

If Wyoming isn’t careful, there’s a “very real risk of a much worse situation,” said state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist.

Gordon said modified orders will be released next week that will ease “restrictions on certain businesses.”

The orders also will give county health officers more flexibility to adapt based on what’s going on in their own county. They can submit requests for countywide variances from those orders if the public health conditions in the county warrant the change.

The variances can either be more or less restrictive, based on county-level data. The goal is to allow flexibility based on objective data, including the local state of the outbreak, hospital capacity and testing capacity.

It means some counties might have more lenient restrictions, and some might be more strict, Gordon said.

Businesses that will likely be allowed to reopen under the new orders, with instructions in place, to protect customers and employees, include barber shops, cosmetologists and gyms, Gordon said.

Wyoming needs to slowly relax the restrictions to get people ready for the “new normal” of business in 2020, he said. With the current orders expiring Thursday, he plans on modifying them so the state can move into the next phase.

Gordon said his new orders will likely include barber shops, cosmetologists and gyms reopening. He said as of right now, they’re currently reviewing and refining plans concerning bars and restaurants.

The pandemic is far from over, Harrist said, and “social distancing remains critical for now and for a while to come.”

“It’s not over yet, and it’s not going to be over when our current orders expire on April 30,” Harrist said.

During the Thursday news conference, Harrist outlined the six metrics state officials will be analyzing as they decide which restrictions can be eased and in which locations. Officials will assign one of three values to the metrics: improving, stabilizing or concerning.

The metrics include:

  • New cases: Have there been fewer cases over time? (Currently listed as stabilizing statewide)
  • Percent of cases attributed to community spread: Is the percentage the same or less? (Currently listed as concerning)
  • Percent of all tests that are positive: Is the percentage the same or less? (Currently stabilizing)
  • Total COVID-19 admissions reported by hospitals: Has there been a sustained reduction in total COVID-19 hospitalizations? (Currently concerning)
  • Total hospital bed availability: Is bed availability in Wyoming hospitals stable? (Currently stabilizing)
  • Total ICU bed availability: Is ICU bed availability in Wyoming hospitals stable? (Currently stabilizing)
  • None of the categories currently fall into the “improving” classification.

The state Public Health lab has ramped up its testing capabilities, and Harrist recommends medical providers expand their testing as supplies allow.

Wyoming recently got more testing supplies, so now people who weren’t originally outlined in the priority testing categories — such as people with underlying health conditions and those who have been exposed to the virus — can get tested, Harrist said.

Wyoming has been able to get more swabs to collect testing samples from people, and the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory has gotten more materials so it can now expand the number of tests processed daily, Harrist said. How long those testing supplies will last will depend on the number of people getting tested and if they continue to get supplies. For now she feels confident.

When the virus first reached Wyoming, Harrist said she recognized concerns that there wasn’t testing as early as they would have liked, and testing availability has been an ongoing issue due to supply. She said the overall lack of testing is a concern as the state makes decisions about Wyoming’s next steps because she knows there have been more COVID-19 cases in the state than they’ve been able to identify.

She said that is one of the reasons Wyoming needs to be cautious moving forward.

Hospitals have stopped elective procedures to conserve personal protective equipment and protect patients. Harrist said hospitals may begin to start offering those services again, based on new federal recommendations. She asked that they approach it in a phased process, based on the local outbreak and the availability of testing and personal protective equipment.

The state of Wyoming also is allowing school districts to provide limited in-person instruction to students in certain cases.

Jillian Balow, state superintendent of public instruction, said school districts can work with their county health officials to make that happen.

Schools can provide limited in-person instruction to students “with the greatest need,” including special needs students and those who are on individualized education plans.

Balow also is requiring schools to work with their county health officials and submit a Reopening Schools Plan to the state.

“The discussion about immediate in-person instruction of some students should evolve into discussions about broader opening of schools to students during the summer, and then fall,” she said in a press release. “The health and safety of students, staff, and the community are of primary importance.”

Isabella Alves with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle contributed to this report via Wyoming News Exchange. This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to the News Record here.

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