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Natrona County Commission passes face mask order for county buildings
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Natrona County Commission passes face mask order for county buildings

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Visitors to many Natrona County-owned buildings will now be required to wear masks.

In the face of surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Natrona County Commissioners voted Tuesday at a special meeting to adopt a mask-wearing resolution.

The mask requirement only applies to county-owned buildings, including:

  • the Natrona County Courthouse;
  • the Townsend Justice Center;
  • the Road and Bridge and the Parks departments;
  • the coroner’s office; and
  • the Agricultural Resource and Learning Center.
  • The resolution also gives the sheriff’s office, Child Support Enforcement and the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds the right to require masks as a condition of entry to their buildings but leaves the final decision up to those agencies.

Children 2 or younger are not required to wear face coverings, nor are people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing one.

The commissioners briefly discussed the mandate before unanimously passing it Tuesday. Commission Chair Rob Hendry said the county needed to “get back” to social distancing, hand washing and other preventive measures that grew commonplace in March and April.

“This is just one activity of many we can do to stop this,” Hendry said of the mask requirement.

Vice-chair Paul Bertoglio also supported the requirement, saying it’s vital to protect county employees so people can stay at work.

Hendry said as of Tuesday, there were roughly 20 county employees unable to come to work because they had been exposed to the virus. County Attorney Eric Nelson, too, could not attend the special meeting in-person because he’d potentially been exposed to the virus. Nelson participated in the meeting virtually, instead.

Commissioner Forrest Chadwick said he had received many emails from residents, and that they were “7 or 8 to 1,” in favor of the resolution.

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There was no public comment period during the meeting because it was a special meeting called solely to pass the mask resolution. Special meetings are not required to include time for public feedback.

Still, the newly imposed mask requirement received mixed reactions from residents who attended the meeting. A little more than a dozen people attended, and most were masked. One resident applauded when the commissioners approved the resolution, while another stormed out of the room, angry that there was no opportunity for the public to address the elected officials. Another resident, Ann Robinson, took a few moments after the meeting to speak to the commissioners regardless.

Robinson is a COVID-19 survivor. She and her husband both contracted the virus in June and recounted their experience to the Star-Tribune in September.

“You need to do something for all of us,” Robinson told the commissioners, saying they should enact a county-wide mask mandate, rather than one just for county buildings.

Robinson told the commissioners that her 42-year-old grand-niece, a Colorado Springs mother of three, died Monday from COVID-19. She also worried about the monumental increase in COVID-19 cases in Natrona County. Nearly 250 cases were added in the county Tuesday alone, and just under 1,200 cases were confirmed active in the county.

Statewide, cases continue to soar past previous benchmarks. There were more than 8,000 presumed or confirmed active virus infections in Wyoming as of Tuesday. A month ago, that number sat just below 1,600.

Deaths are also on the rise, with 40 announced so far this month. That’s more than the 37 recorded in October, which was then an all-time high.

Last week, a public meeting meant to discuss the county’s pandemic response and the possibility of a face mask order in the county ended prematurely when members of the public continuously shouted down medical officials. Nelson said at the beginning of that meeting there were no plans for a formal vote or adoption of a mask mandate, but a handful of residents at that meeting rejected any information about the state of the pandemic in the county, instead arguing with officials to the point that the meeting was adjourned before several officials scheduled to speak even took the podium.

The question of a local mask mandate has come up frequently in recent weeks. County Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell said Friday it was an “ongoing discussion,” but that a mandate wouldn’t be necessary if people chose to wear face masks of their own volition.

Casper Mayor Steve Freel has said the city has no intention to institute its own mask ordinance, but also urged residents to adorn the face coverings anyway.

Elsewhere in Wyoming, the Wind River Reservation, Teton, Laramie and Albany Counties have all instituted local mask requirements. The reservation and Teton County were early adopters, imposing their requirements over the summer. Laramie County’s mandate went into effect Nov. 2, and Albany County’s Nov. 6.

Wyoming’s Western neighbor, Utah, Sunday announced a statewide mask mandate and declared a new state of emergency amid soaring COVID-19 infections. A spokesperson for Gov. Mark Gordon has since said the Governor is “weighing his options” regarding possible actions in light of the surge.

However, Gordon has repeatedly said he will defer such decisions to local officials.

Follow health and education reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @m0rgan_hughes

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Health and education reporter

Morgan Hughes covers health and education in Wyoming. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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