Restaurants and bars across Wyoming continued their gradual reopening on Thursday as Department of Health officials announced the state’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases grew by four.
State officials by Thursday had approved requests from 13 counties for exemptions or “variances” to the statewide health orders issued in March that closed restaurants, bars, gyms and businesses that provide personal services to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The state allowed businesses that offer personal services to open May 1. Most of the variances sought by counties were to allow restaurants and bars to operate with certain safety guidelines.
Gov. Mark Gordon, speaking during a news conference Thursday, said if conditions allow, the statewide orders would be relaxed on May 15 to let restaurants and bars to reopen if they adhere to the same safeguards in place for the restaurants and bars allowed to open early.
Gordon also warned residents that a full return to conditions as they existed before the coronavirus pandemic will be gradual and thoughtful.
“This is not a simple return to the old way of doing business before this pandemic began,” he said. “This is the way we reawaken our economy and we move forward.”
Bars and restaurants allowed to open early are to operate under an extensive list of safety rules which include limiting people at a table to no more than six, placing tables six feet away from each other, requiring servers to wear face coverings and requiring businesses to be disinfected several times a day.
Information gained from the early opening of the businesses will help state officials as they lay out plans for moving forward, said Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer.
Gordon’s comments Thursday came immediately after the state Department of Health issued its daily coronavirus update, which showed an increase in coronavirus cases of four, all in Fremont County, to bring the statewide total of confirmed cases to 483.
As of Thursday afternoon, Fremont County had 159 cases; Laramie County had 109; Teton County had 67; Natrona County had 38; Campbell County had 16; Converse County had 14; Sheridan and Sweetwater counties had 12; Johnson had 11; Albany had eight; Lincoln had seven; Uinta had six; Carbon, Crook and Washakie had five; Goshen had three, and Big Horn had two. Hot Springs, Niobrara, Park and Sublette counties each had one case.
Platte and Weston counties remain free of any confirmed cases of the illness.
The number of recoveries in both people with laboratory-confirmed cases and those with “probable” cases of coronavirus increased slightly on Thursday, growing by seven to total 428. The number included 302 recoveries among people with laboratory-confirmed cases and 126 among people with “probable” cases, people who have not been tested for coronavirus but have shown symptoms and are known to have been in contact with someone with a laboratory-confirmed case.
In addition to the 483 confirmed coronavirus cases in Wyoming, the Health Department said the state has 152 unconfirmed “probable” cases.
In other developments:
Request granted: Three more counties won approval to open up restaurants and bars on a limited basis. State officials approved the requests from Converse, Natrona and Sweetwater counties to allow restaurants and bars to seat customers inside if safety guidelines are followed. Natrona County had won permission on May 1 for customers to be served outside of restaurants and bars.
Sweetwater County also won approval to allow churches to hold services as long as social distancing and other health safeguards are observed.
Session set: During his news conference Thursday, Gordon signed a proclamation calling the Wyoming Legislature to a special session to begin May 15. The session is to be held virtually through a video meeting application, although some legislators will be able to attend in-person in the Capitol in Cheyenne. The Capitol will be closed to the public during the session, but the session can be viewed through the video meeting application.
The main topic for consideration by the Legislature will be how to distribute $1.25 billion in federal money made available through the coronavirus relief program.
Visitor quarantine: Gordon on Friday allowed his order for out-of-state visitors to Wyoming to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving in the state to expire. The order was issued in April in response to reports that a high number of out-of-state residents were visiting the state’s parks and obtaining fishing licenses.
Gordon also announced the state Game and Fish Department would resume selling short-term non-resident fishing licenses. The department had ceased sale of the 1- and 5-day licenses in April in response to a request from Gordon.