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Teton County pursues stricter regulations than state's, while Park County looks for further loosening
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Teton County pursues stricter regulations than state's, while Park County looks for further loosening

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Aerial of the town of Jackson

Teton County, seen in this aerial shot, has been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus in Wyoming.

Two days after the state’s top health official loosened restrictions on businesses, at least two Wyoming counties have already moved to further change the strictures on their communities.

The two counties — Park and Teton — are on opposite ends of the coronavirus pandemic in Wyoming. Park has just one case, despite its early presence in the county. Teton, meanwhile, has 65 cases, the most per 100,000 people in the state. Earlier this week, Dr. Alexia Harrist allowed barbershops, tattoo parlors, gyms and select other businesses to open with restrictions; as part of that change, which is set to take effect Friday, various counties can make their own orders, depending on the situation in the county.

Both Park and Teton counties have applied for changes that would allow them to address the pandemic in their areas.

Teton County wants the businesses that the state said could reopen Friday to instead be ordered closed through May 11. The request from the county has been approved, officials said.

The county’s shelter-in-place order, the only one by a county in the state, was set to expire at midnight Friday and will not be renewed, said Jodie Pond, the director of the county’s health department.

“Just because we let (the shelter-in-place order) expire doesn’t mean you should go have dinner with your friends,” Pond said.

“It’s not a time to let our guard down,” Teton County health officer Dr. Travis Riddell said in a statement. “We’re urging everyone in Teton County to err on the side of caution, especially those who may have more frequent interaction with others or are at higher risk.”

Pond said the county was preparing to move into a “moderate risk” phase, with about 40 percent of its cases attributed to community spread, meaning they don’t have a known origin point — like a husband contracting the virus after his wife fell ill, for example. The county has been at “high risk,” according to a draft document laying out guidance for various stages of the pandemic. “High risk” is coded red, while “moderate” is orange.

“That doesn’t mean things go back to normal on May 15,” she said. “It’s not going back to the middle of January anytime soon, probably until we have a vaccine in January of 2021. So as we tell people — everybody’s like, ‘Woo-hoo!’ But we’re like, ‘Orange is just a little less red.’”

In Park County, officials are moving to further ease up restrictions. The county’s health officer, Dr. Aaron Billin, told the Star-Tribune that the county was asking the state for permission to allow for outdoor, in-person dining at restaurants there.

Such a change, if approved, would be the first significant move to reopen restaurants to something resembling normalcy since Harrist ordered a statewide closure for all but takeout and delivery services in mid-March.

It’s unclear if other counties will follow suit in requesting their own customizations. Officials in Natrona County have played coy when asked, though they announced Thursday that they would begin accepting exemption requests from businesses that would allow the establishments to have more people inside or would allow restaurants to do outdoor dining.

County spokeswoman Rebekah Ladd said Wednesday that officials here have “been working diligently ... to formulate a slow and safe opening plan, should one need to be enacted at the local level.” The Natrona County School District announced earlier this week that it would not have in-person school for the remainder of this academic term.

Spokesmen from Fremont County, the epicenter of the pandemic in Wyoming, said there were no plans to request changes there. Messages sent to officials in Laramie County, where there are 98 confirmed and 47 probable cases, were not returned by Thursday evening.

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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