Wyoming began taking steps toward normalcy this week as some counties won permission to reopen restaurants and churches.

State officials approved requests from seven counties for county-wide variances from the public health orders that were imposed in mid-March to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Most of the variances issued were for outdoor dining for restaurants and bars, as seen in Natrona, Park and Sheridan counties. However, indoor dining was allowed in Lincoln and Washakie counties.

In all cases, the request for variances from county health officers contained guidelines for preventing the spread of the illness. Those included limiting tables to six people, keeping tables six feet apart, requiring staff to wear cloth face covers and the full disinfection of the businesses daily.

Niobrara, Platte and Sheridan counties won approval for church services, which required a variance from the state health order limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer. The adopted variances require that household groups stay at least six feet away from each other, that no more people be allowed in a church than can be accommodated with social distancing guidelines and that church leaders and staff use face masks.

In the cases of both restaurants and churches, people interacting with members of the public are to be screened to determine whether they have symptoms of coronavirus or have been in contact with a person who has been diagnosed with coronavirus.

State officials also granted a request from Teton County for a variance that would let the county keep its gyms and businesses providing personal services closed until May 11. 

A modification to the state health orders allowed those businesses to open elsewhere on May 1.

As counties around the state made progress Monday in reopening businesses closed by the coronavirus, Wyoming’s confirmed case count increased by nine to total 444, largely due to increases in Fremont County’s case count.

The Wyoming Health Department reported six new coronavirus cases in Fremont County on Monday, bringing the county’s total to 128. Laramie County reported three new cases.

Fremont County health officials have said that increased testing and contact tracing would lead to a significant increase in the number of cases in the county.

As of Monday afternoon, Fremont County had 128 cases; Laramie County had 104; Teton County had 67; Natrona County had 38; Campbell County had 15; Converse County had 14; Sheridan County had 12; Johnson and Sweetwater counties had 11; Albany had eight; Lincoln and 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 Monday, growing by 14 to total 405. The number included 289 recoveries among people with laboratory-confirmed cases and 116 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 444 confirmed coronavirus cases in Wyoming, the Health Department said the state has 152 unconfirmed “probable” cases.

In other developments:

Closures questioned: A group of legislators last week sent a letter to Gov. Mark Gordon questioning his decisions to close some businesses to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Six legislators signed a letter authored by state Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, that said Gordon lacked constitutional authority to close some businesses and restrict gatherings to fewer than 10 people. “What legal authority is your administration relying upon that allows you to suspend constitutional rights, specifically the right to assemble and the right to worship?” The letter said. “How does statutory reference supersede the U.S. and Wyoming constitution?”

Hospital clear: Extensive tests on patients and staff at the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston have revealed no sign of the coronavirus, according to the state Department of Health. The department said the testing of 218 staff and patients at the hospital — about 61% of its population — was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The testing was seen as a way to track how the illness might move through a population that shared common areas with a staff that moves in and out of the hospital.

Council cut: Some members of the Cheyenne City Council are suggesting making cuts to their salaries in a show of solidarity with city employees who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus. Council members receive $1,000 a month and they are proposing cutting their salaries by 13% and depositing the $130 savings into a relief fund established to help those financially hit by the virus. The reductions would continue through the end of the year.

Special graduations: With social distancing rules still in place, school officials are looking at non-traditional ways to offer up high school graduation ceremonies. In Riverton, officials have decided to have a “drive-in” ceremony, where graduates will gather in vehicles in the Riverton High School parking lot. The cars containing seniors will drive to a stage set up at one end of the parking lot, the seniors will exit their cars, walk across the stage to collect their diplomas and return to their cars, which will then be parked in an assigned spot.

In Cheyenne, Cheyenne Frontier Days officials are offering to host graduation ceremonies for all four of Cheyenne’s four high schools in June in the event’s rodeo arena. With seating for 19,000, the arena has plenty of space to allow families to sit together and still stay six feet away from other families, according to Cheyenne Superintendent Boyd Brown. The separate ceremonies for each high school would occur June 12 and 13.

Reopening: The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody is set to reopen on Thursday. Officials said they have been working for weeks on a plan to reopen the museum. “Know that when you are ready to visit the Center of the West again, we will be ready to welcome you with these new cleanliness and safety guidelines,” center officials said in a news release.

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