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Legislators send letter to governor

SHERIDAN — A group of six legislators signed onto a letter written by Rep. Scott Clem to the governor, questioning the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the letter dated April 29, 2020, Clem, a legislator out of Gillette, penned a series of questions regarding what data and studies state leadership has used to guide decisions, hospital preparedness, constitutional authority and the effect of unemployment on both the state’s economy and individuals’ health.

Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, signed onto the letter. He said he did so to gather more information for constituents.

“If you are going to shut down large portions of the economy, then the people deserve to know the real data not just relying on the projected models that were based on the heavier populated areas and that have continued to be downgraded,” Jennings said in an emailed response to The Sheridan Press. “I have also been receiving lots of emails and calls from my constituents that are very concerned how the state picked which businesses were essential and which weren’t, causing some to have real concerns about losing their livelihood altogether.”

While a survey conducted by the University of Wyoming’s Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center shows a decline in support for major polices put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it still shows broad support for most of the measures.

For example, 76% of respondents said they support the closure of K-12 schools, though that support decreased by 8 percentage points from the last survey conducted April 13.

In addition, 67% said they support the closure of day cares (down 11%), 64% said they support the closure of restaurants and bars (down 12%) and 75% said they support limiting public gatherings (down 8%). While there has not been a “shelter-in-place” in Wyoming, 44% said they would support it (down 4%).

The survey, conducted April 27 was the third of multiple surveys WYSAC will conduct to measure public opinion on a number of topics related to COVID-19. A total of 496 Wyoming residents participated in the survey representing all Wyoming counties, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

“While most Wyoming residents continue to take the situation seriously, fewer residents are reporting that they are taking preventative measures,” said Brian Harnisch, senior research scientist in charge of the project at WYSAC, in a press release.

“While we do see an increase to nearly half of residents saying they now wear personal protective items in public places, we also see a decline in the number of people avoiding physical contact or turning down visits from friends or family, for example.”

Jennings said “the appearance is that we handed over our lives and liberties to unelected bureaucrats and I think there could be some serious constitutional issues with that.

“I don’t believe we should have shut down the way we did; we have never quarantined the healthy like this before,” Jennings said.

He noted that people complied because they care about their neighbors, but there are more problems arising with the shutdown.

“I am glad that the governor is opening things back up, but it should have never gone this far,” Jennings said.

According to the U.S. Labor Department, more than 30 million people have filed for unemployment in the last six weeks.

In Wyoming, the Casper Star-Tribune reported nearly 30,000 people had filed for unemployment benefits as of last week since the pandemic reached Wyoming in mid-March.

The UW survey, though, shows that many believe those jobs will come back.

Of the roughly one-third of Wyomingites who say they or someone in their immediate family has lost their jobs, 64% say it’s likely those jobs or employment will return.

Of the over half of Wyomingites who say they or someone in their immediate family has seen reductions in hours or pay, 73% are optimistic those hours or wages will be restored.

The governor has held a series of press conferences as statewide restrictions have eased. He has continuously acknowledged the need to remain cautious and not cede any ground gained on battling COVID-19.

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