Gov. Mark Gordon has called state Legislature into a May 15 special session to discuss how to use the $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act money Wyoming has received to mitigate impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In signing a proclamation Thursday afternoon to hold the special session, the governor also said he wants lawmakers to amend and create programs to help businesses and people negatively affected by the virus and address expected economic “devastation” to the state budget.

“We want to provide assistance to businesses and citizens as quickly as possible,” Gordon said during a virus briefing in Cheyenne. “Many of our businesses and citizens have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.”

The special session will be based in Cheyenne, but will be held remotely with lawmakers attending electronically, Gordon said.

He also specifically expressed concern for a potential coronavirus exposure in Campbell County that prompted the state health officer to pause approval of a county variance to orders keeping local bars and restaurants closed.

In that case, a teen girl who has been confirmed positive for COVID-19 also had been in contact with more than 70 people considered high risk.

“That’s the sort of thing that makes us want to pause,” Gordon said. “It’s certainly inadvertent, but something we want to resolve.”

Campbell County had hoped to allow people back into bars and restaurants beginning Friday, with some restrictions still in place, like no more than six people to a party and tables at least 6 feet apart. That is on hold as the county and state test the known contacts of the latest case.

As of Thursday afternoon, variances for 13 counties had been approved for things like reopening bars and restaurants and allowing indoor church services.

Restrictions to ease

Even so, the state is planning to move forward with the next phase of emerging from virus restrictions when the current public health orders expire May 15, a week from Friday, Gordon said.

When that happens, “We anticipate bars and restaurants will be able to reopen to indoor table service,” he said.

Guidelines on personal services like gyms, child care and barber shops that were allowed to reopen last week will be loosened as well.

“We are moving as quickly as we can,” Gordon said, adding that he’s counting on the honor system to make things work. “We will be relying on our restaurant and bar owners to implement these measures. No businesses wants to be a source of a major outbreak of COVID-19.”

That emergence May 15 will continue to be based on daily virus data and doesn’t mean everyone can go back to living the way they did before, Gordon said.

“We need the cooperation of the people of Wyoming,” he said. “We must continue to be vigilant and this (will not) be a resumption of how we did things before.”

More relaxing

Gordon also is allowing his directive for people visiting Wyoming to self-quarantine for 14 days to expire tomorrow. He also said Wyoming Game & Fish will lift its moratorium on single-day and five-day fishing licenses beginning Sunday.

The state also is working on a plan to open Yellowstone National Park “in coming weeks” as well as allowing outdoor events like rodeos.

Overall, the news is encouraging, Gordon said.

“I am excited at the news today at the further awakening of our economy and that we are well on our way,” he said.

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