POWELL — Starting next week, Wyomingites will no longer be required to wear masks in most public places and — for the first time in nearly a year — bars, restaurants and theaters will be allowed to return to normal operations. The changes will take effect Tuesday, March 16.
Gov. Mark Gordon announced the changes Monday, attributing his decision to “continually improving” numbers related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I thank the people of Wyoming for their commitment to keeping one another safe throughout this pandemic. It is through their efforts that we have kept our schools and businesses operating and our economy moving forward,” Gordon said.
He also asked residents “to continue to take personal responsibility for their actions and stay diligent.”
Gordon said more details about the changes to the public health orders would be released later this week. His office specifically mentioned that face covering protocols will remain in place in K-12 schools “as a safety measure to ensure that classroom learning and all student activities can continue to occur safely.”
The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Wyoming facilities has fallen from a peak of 247 patients on Nov. 30 to 22 by the end of last week; meanwhile, the number of active COVID-19 infections has sunk from a peak of 11,861 cases in late November to 460 as of Friday. There’s been a similar downward trend at the local level.
Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin had thought it might be a few more weeks before the mask mandate went away. However, he called the decision to lift the restrictions across the state next week “appropriate” and said it’s supported by data.
“Things are looking very good,” Billin said Monday.
Beyond the improved metrics, elected and public health officials have been facing a renewed pushback against the health orders. Late last month, for example, a group of citizens filed a class action lawsuit in Johnson County that seeks to have all the orders voided.
Additionally, at a meeting in Cody last week, members of the Park County Republican Party’s Central Committee called on county commissioners to push back on the mask mandate. A couple committee members contended that Billin should be removed from his position, particularly if he didn’t request a variance to the masking rule.
Billin — who’s described facial coverings as effective and cheap while generally not hindering businesses — had expressed concern last week about backing off the restrictions too quickly and triggering a surge in COVID-19 cases.