Saying Friday was an “exciting” day for Wyoming as some restrictions on businesses have been eased in the state’s ongoing response to COVID-19, Gov. Mark Gordon said he’s also looking forward to loosening those regulations more as appropriate.

“Today is the first day of our modified public health orders,” he said about allowing personal care businesses to reopen. “Early indications are that our business communities are complying with the public health requirements.”

In a Friday afternoon coronavirus briefing, the governor said he’s also focused on making sure the $1.25 billion Wyoming was allocated in the CARES Act needs to be used quickly and correctly.

“We must use this money valuably, but we must use it quickly because people are hurting today,” he said.

Gordon unveiled a three-phased plan to use that federal money to help mitigate the “exceptional and unprecedented” way COVID-19 has impacted Wyoming’s economy and workforce.

There are guidelines on how to use the CARES Act money and the state needs to be careful to make sure that if audited, Wyoming won’t be hit on the back end with penalties, fines or having to pay it back.

More importantly, he said the money needs to be used to benefit small businesses and as much of the workforce as possible, and that it happens soon. Prolonged shutdowns can do that.

“We don’t want to lose our mining communities as we start to see volumes come back,” Gordon said. “We want to make sure our oil industry is still there. It’s important we be able to maintain that workforce.”

He said first phase of his plan calls for spending the bulk of the CARES Act money, $575 million, up front, “because if we don’t use this money immediately, we may not have the workforce or businesses.”

Although he hasn’t offered a specific plan, Gordon said phase one needs to include a plan on how to handle evictions for nonpayment of rent or mortgages, but in a way that focuses on both landlords and tenants.

Phase two also is ready to go and will see counties, cities, towns and special districts submit their COVID-19 expenses for reimbursement.

The third phase in the summer will see the addition of any programs the Legislature implements, he said, adding special sessions will be held soon to work on that.

“We are starting to see our country come awake again,” Gordon said. “We want to make sure our businesses are ready to meet that challenge.”

See Sunday’s News Record for more on the state and local COVID-19 response.

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