New state COVID-19 cases move county to Level 3 status
March 19, 2020
Information in this article and other COVID-19 coverage in this issue were up to date as of 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 18. Please check wyodaily.com for updates throughout the day and week.
WORLAND – An increase of four new COVID-19 cases Tuesday night in Wyoming moved Washakie County from a Level 2 to a Level 3 status prompting the closure of all county facilities including the courthouse, libraries in Ten Sleep and Worland, University of Wyoming Extension office and meeting rooms and the fairgrounds, according to Washakie County Commission Chair Fred Frandson.
Frandson said employees will report to work and rresidents can make appointments to see someone at the courthouse.
During Tuesday’s regular meeting, the Washakie County commissioners approved new measures to help keep local residents safe.
Commissioners heard Tuesday from Washakie County Public Health Nurse Manager Amanda Heinemeyer and Washakie County Homeland Security/Emergency Management Director Kami Neighbors.
Tuesday afternoon, Washakie County was already in a “Level 2” status. County agencies encouraged folks to work from home when they felt sick, limited the number of patrons at any one moment in county offices, asked people needing services to maintain six feet of distance from county employees, and other stipulations.
What was the threshold for moving County operations to “Level 3”? After some discussion, with input from audience members, the commissioners decided on three criteria — one or more COVID-19 cases in the Big Horn Basin; if cases are reported in four or more Wyoming localities; or if there are 25 or more cases reported anywhere in Wyoming.
At 9 p.m. Tuesday evening, several hours after the commissioner meeting, the Wyoming Department of Health reported four additional cases, including one in Park County, which is in the Big Horn Basin. There are three in Sheridan County, two in Laramie County and eight in Fremont County (Lander) for a total of 15 cases in the state.
In Level 3 operations, among other plans, county offices would be closed to the public, except by appointment. Units not maintaining essential functions should consider full closure, if employees can work from home. Law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, road and bridge and other essential services would continue at full strength.
The commissioners noted at Tuesday’s meeting that the likelihood of moving to Level 3 was not a matter of “if,” but “when.”
With regard to recent decisions by state and local jurisdictions nationwide to require restaurants, bars and other establishments to remain closed until the COVID-19 crisis has passed, or to cancel or enforce strict limits to the size of public gatherings, Board Chairman Fred Frandson pointed out that it is not within Washakie County’s remit to make such judgments. Frandson emphasized the “chain of command” in terms of local COVID-19 decision-making, and suggested that these decisions could only be made by state and local health officials. Washakie County can make decisions about Washakie County functions.
In the morning session with commissioners, Heinemeyer and Neighbors suggested that it would be wise to treat the current COVID-19 situation as an incident of Public Health and Homeland Security significance. They proposed to establish an incident command system (ICS) for Washakie County, to proactively help the county prepare for local cases of COVID-19 infection. The COVID-19 ICS will serve as a central nexus of operations, liaising with federal, state and other local agencies, providing public information and coordinating all aspects of Washakie County’s response to COVID-19.
The commissioners approved this proposal, and made $20,000 available to fund the ICS operations. It is believed that the state will make emergency funds available within the next month, which would reimburse any COVID-19 ICS expenditures.
The commissioners stopped short of declaring a formal state of emergency in Washakie County, citing a recent communiqué from Wyoming Homeland Security Director Lynn Budd. Budd’s message emphasized that because Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon has already declared a state of emergency for Wyoming in regard to COVID-19, there is no need for counties to do so. Even so, Gordon advised local jurisdictions to prepare for the pandemic, protecting their communities as they deem best.
It is thus still necessary for Washakie County to implement strategies for maintaining a range of county operations, while minimizing infection risk both for county employees and the general public. In the meeting’s afternoon session, Frandson quoted from Governor Gordon’s remarks earlier this week. Gordon had suggested that Wyoming is a state where people have “an uncanny amount of common sense,” and that “common sense will prevail.” In other words, the governor saw no need at this time to require closure of restaurants and bars, cancel public gatherings or enforce strict limits to their size; nor do state and local public health officials call for this. Business owners and local organizations are also able to make such decisions on their own, if they see fit to do so.
Washakie County residents who would like to keep up with the latest COVID-19 information are encouraged to visit the Washakie County COVID-19 Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/washakiecountycovid19/) and the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security’s WISP information center (see related story).