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Barron: The great mask divide
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Barron: The great mask divide

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CHEYENNE — One of the least healthy places to be in the middle of a Wyoming winter is the Wyoming Legislature.

It has a long history of becoming huge petri dish for upper respiratory infections. And why not with all those people sitting too close together on the floors of the House and Senate or piled into one of the tiny committee rooms where the real business of the Legislature takes place.

It was in those committee boxes where observers like lobbyists and reporters were oh, so close, they could easily cough into each other’s ears.

Given the conditions, a wave of URI’s was expected every year but wasn’t too serious nor debilitating.

But once in awhile the seasonal illness was more of a curse than an annoyance.

During one session in the 1980s the lawmakers struggled through an ailment that swept through the chambers disrupting the entire session schedule.

The first sign of the onslaught was when one of the House leaders, Jack Sidi of Casper, left the floor to return to his motel room in downtown Cheyenne.

Word spread quickly.

Sidi was a pretty healthy guy who rarely missed a meeting.

My press colleagues described Sidi as appearing ill — “he looked green”— was one description.

The green disease soon blossomed in the House and Senate. marked by loud choruses of coughing and sniffling and empty seats.

The doctors and nurses for the day, usually a largely ceremonial position — were too busy with sick lawmakers to leave their tiny offices on the third floor of the Capitol Building to watch the floor action.

(In a pinch one time with no M.D.’s available, the Senate appointed a member who was a veterinarian to be Doctor of the Day.)

Meanwhile, in the ravaged house, still healthy legislators like Casper’s Nyla Murphy, gave away handfuls of vitamins and cold remedies and advice to their fellow lawmakers.

No one died, though. And by the end of the session the coughing and hacking had subsided. The lawmakers finished their work before they went home.

Although distressing, the green disease, whatever it was, could not compare with the current plague of COVID-19.

But it is an example of how any virus or bacteria can hobble a Wyoming Legislature, how it can spread so quickly,.

The legislators of that era did not have the option of wearing a mask.

But they were not facing the fearsome virus that is COVID-19.

The new virus is a disease that can cause severe illness and weird complications as well as a horrible death from suffocation.

So keeping lawmakers and their staff safe in the 2021 legislative session is problematic to say the least.

The legislative leaders who make up the management council tried last week to stitch together a plan to hold the odd-year general session later in May after meeting the constitutional requirement to meet the second Tuesday in January to swear in new members and other ceremonial tasks.

The mask controversy popped up because the plan specifies that newly elected members can invite to their swearing-in ceremonies four guests who are required to comply with public health and safety regulations than include wearing a mask inside the Capitol Building.

The legislators themselves, however, are only strongly encouraged to comply.

They will be allowed to decide themselves whether they want to wear a mask and maintain safe distancing during the ceremonies.

In short, it appears there will be two separate swearings-in —one for maskers and one for the maskless.

This is about as goofy as it can get.

Perhaps next the supreme court justices will toss a coin or draw straws to see who has to swear in the maskless members.

The maskless club, however, lost a round recently when they held a protest outside the Capitol Building for some reason. The group included Taylor Haynes, a former Republican candidate for governor, and other right wing activists.

The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle that carried the story of the protests included not one quote from anybody there, which is why I cannot remember what the protest was about.

An editor’s note explained that the paper’s policy is not to interview people who are not wearing marks. The policy is designed to protect the reporters.

As an old reporter, I’m for that.

Joan Barron is a former longtime capitol bureau reporter. Contact her at 307-632-2534 or jmbarron@bresnan.net

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