Northern Wyoming News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Karla Pomeroy
Editor 

The News Editorial: The mask mandate cometh

 

November 19, 2020



We knew it was only a matter of time before a mask mandate was coming, but we did not know how it would come about.

While I write this Tuesday night Washakie County’s health order mandating masks, submitted by County Health Officer Ed Zimmerman, is under review by the Wyoming State Health Officer Alexia Harrist. Nine other similar requests including for our neighboring counties Hot Springs and Park were approved on Tuesday. It also must be approved by Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill.

Teton County was the first to have a mandate approved, followed by Laramie and then Albany County. This week Natrona, Sweetwater, Sheridan, Park, Lincoln, Carbon, Goshen, Sublette and Hot Springs counties have had mandate orders approved for their respective counties. Washakie County’s request is under review at this writing, as is one from Converse County.

Last week, the county health officers wrote to the governor on Thursday requesting a statewide mask mandate, when none came on Friday, many health officers took matters into their own hands to seek the mandates this week.

As I wrote last week I wear a mask and have been wearing one more often the past couple of weeks. I have read and heard multiple sides and I choose to wear one. I do not feel it will hurt me. I do feel it can help me and possibly others.

In March schools shut down, we shut down businesses, we asked people to social distance and wash their hands, then we asked them to wear face coverings when social distancing was not possible.

Let’s be honest folks, just because our towns might be miles apart does not mean we are. I see so many people not social distancing even when there is plenty of room to do so.

Social distancing is a simple thing and yet, people, yes even in Worland, cannot seem to get the knack for it.

On the surface I have no problem with the mask mandate (if it is approved. Please check our website or Facebook page for the most up-to-date information on the mask mandate request.) I wear one when waiting on customers at the office, when I go to stores, when I attended the recent craft fair. My life will not change much.

However, I do have concerns with the process that occurred here in Washakie County.

As a county health officer Zimmerman and the other county health officers are within their right to seek the orders from the state, with or without county commission or city council input or approval.

It appears, however, that the commissioners were led to believe they would be involved in the process when they put Zimmerman and COVID discussion on their agenda for the Tuesday meeting. Commission Chairman Fred Frandson expressed frustration to the mayor and city council Tuesday night over the process, stating, “I have already told you that I do not support this, but it is an order. The county commissioners have been taken out of this.”

That last part is the real concerning part. As our elected officials I strongly believe they should have been involved in the process.

But I believe you the residents of Washakie County should have as well, along with the media. We knew there was a discussion about COVID on the agenda, we did not know a mask order was being considered specifically for Washakie County. We did not know our county health officer was involved in the letter to the governor on Thursday until the governor mentioned the letter in his press conference on Thursday.

The county health officer is not an elected position. The citizens of the county have our voice heard through the commissioners. Leaving them out of the process leaves the citizens out of the process.

Zimmerman told the commissioners he thought all the counties would be submitting similar health orders. However, the Northern Wyoming News learned Tuesday night that Big Horn County is going to take an education and encouragement approach rather than a mandated approach at this time.

They have purchased large ads in all three county newspapers and have shared the message throughout social media.

That message … “For the next two weeks, PLEASE wear a mask or face covering when in public.

“Wash your hands frequently.

“Stay away from groups and gatherings, but enjoy time with members of your immediate family.

“Stay home when you are sick, even if you think is just your “fall cold”, head cold or sinus infection.

“The hospitals across the region are struggling to keep up with the influx of patients due to covid-19 complications. We can all be proactive in our individual choices instead of waiting for someone to make a mandate.

“Ultimately, this matter is up to each and every county resident.

“This is not a political issue this is a health and safety issue.”

When the Northern Wyoming News began our Mask Up campaign with Washakie Medical Center two weeks ago that was our intent, to encourage others to mask up by showing them leading members of our community who are “masking up” and why they mask up.

Education and encouragement is a good option. So is communication.

A mandate provides too much pushback from people who do not like the government telling them what to do.

By the time you are reading this I suspect that the mandate will be in effect. Exactly what it will say we do not know. Just like the first health order submitted by Dr. Zimmerman the public and media are not privy to the information until it is officially approved by the state.

If another health order is needed during this pandemic we encourage all those involved to have open dialogue, providing as much information as possible to the public before an order is issued. We ask those involved in the decision to take a moment and think of different ways to share your message and to get your message across to the people you are trying to reach.

We ask that you communicate first, mandate second.

 
 

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