Three Wyoming counties imposed restrictions on businesses as the number of people infected with coronavirus in the state grew to 18.
Laramie and Park counties on Thursday joined Teton County in ordering the closure of bars, theaters, fitness centers and other places where more than 10 people may gather.
“It has been determined that a method to control the community spread of the coronavirus is to limit large gatherings of people,” said the order issued by Dr. Aaron Billin, the Park County health officer. “This order may reduce the likelihood that individuals that may have been exposed to the COVID-19 will spread the virus to others.”
The orders came as Teton County reported its first case of coronavirus on Wednesday and Cheyenne officials recorded a fourth case on Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 18.
Fremont County remained the hardest hit county in the state with eight cases, all connected to retirement home in Lander. Sheridan and Laramie counties both had four cases, while Teton and Park reported one each.
The orders all call for the closure of theaters, bars, self-serve buffets, golf clubs and country clubs, communal pools and hot tubs, fitness centers, museums, tasting rooms and any similar establishment likely to attract more than 10 people.
Restaurants were allowed to remain open, but only for curbside takeout or drive-through service.
Gov. Mark Gordon had earlier said he would allow counties to make the decision of whether to close businesses.
“Individual county health officers should work with county commissioners to determine whether closures are suitable given their circumstances,” said Michael Pearlman, a spokesman for the governor. “The state health officer would authorize the closure at the request of a county health officer and elected officials.”
Officials in the counties said they realized the closures would make life difficult for some, but added they were necessary to slow the spread of the virus.
“We recognize that these are extraordinary actions, but COVID-19 is a serious public health challenge,” said Dr. Stanley Hartman, Laramie County’s health officer. “This decision was not taken lightly and will hopefully increase positive outcomes for our community.”
Gordon echoed those sentiments.
“These are going to be perhaps the toughest times any of us will see in our lifetimes,” he said. “Although absolutely necessary, I recognize the toll these measures will take on those most dependent on a working wage. But by working together and practicing good hygiene, kindness and charity, we can keep vulnerable adults healthy, avoid overwhelming our health care system and support those most in need.”
As many Wyoming residents began waiting out the illness, groups began forming statewide to help people get the supplies they need.
Using social media, groups collected information on what supplies were needed by individuals and then matched those people with others who have a surplus of those goods.
In Casper, volunteers helped distribute food from Joshua’s Storehouse, a food pantry, to those who may not have been able to get out to pick it up. Most of the pantry’s existing volunteers are in their mid-60s and Kim Perez, the founder of Joshua’s Storehouse, said she did not want to risk exposing them to the virus.
As a result, new volunteers stepped up to handle deliveries and to pack supply boxes.
In Cheyenne, two residents have established a collection center where those with extra supplies can drop some off to be shared.
In other developments:
State coronavirus website: Gov. Mark Gordon announced the launch of a state government web page dedicated to providing information on the COVID-19 outbreak.
The website, covid19.wyo.gov, includes links to resources and information from the state Department of Health, Office of Homeland Security, Department of Education, University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges.
Courts closed: Wyoming’s Supreme Court ordered all district and circuit courts to suspend in-person proceedings except in cases where such proceedings are required by the and the Constitution. Judges were encouraged to reschedule civil trials and use video or telephone conferencing as much as possible.
“We are fortunate that our branch (of government) has invested in video technology and upgraded our hardware in recent years so that we can perform many judicial functions remotely,” said Chief Justice Michael Davis.
DOC visitations: The Wyoming Department of Corrections suspended all visitations to its institutions on Wednesday, citing concerns about the spread of coronavirus. The DOC said none of its staff members or inmates has tested positive for the illness.
Education: School officials in Albany County voted Wednesday to close Laramie schools until April 6.
Government offices restricted: Albany County officials closed the county’s courthouse to walk-in business, although services remained available by phone or online.
The Campbell County Library was also closed.
Testing: Campbell County Hospital began drive-through coronavirus screening on Wednesday, joining facilities in Cheyenne and Rock Springs in offering the service. In all cases, patients must have been referred for testing by a health care provider before having samples collected.
Business restrictions: The Cheyenne Regional Airport announced it would suspend daily commercial flights to Dallas beginning April 7.
Airport Director Tim Barth said the decision to wait to suspend services will allow anyone wishing to return to Cheyenne from outside the area to do so.
“As we are looking out over the next two weeks, which is traditionally the spring break period for colleges and for families to take vacations, a number of people would be stranded if the flights stopped right now.
The Plains Hotel in Cheyenne closed its doors until May because of the slowdown in business. The hotel’s owner said business normally picks up at the beginning of March, but has not done so this year.
At least four newspapers closed their offices to the public as well: the Casper Star-Tribune, Rocket-Miner in Rock Springs, the Jackson Hole News&Guide and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
Events canceled: Almost any event expected to draw 50 or more people was canceled or postponed by Monday.