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Stories, Stats, Impacts: Wyoming Public Media is here to keep you current on the news surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Governor Says State Will Start To Ease COVID-19 Restrictions In Coming Weeks

State of Wyoming

Existing statewide public health orders will remain in effect until April 30, but Gov. Mark Gordon said the state will soon start to ease restrictions brought on due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gordon said they will be prioritizing public safety while focusing on getting Wyomingites back to work.

"This easing will go through a very thoughtful process and will be measured with positive progress," Gordon said at a press conference on Thursday, April 23.

State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said officials are using several metrics and data to determine what restrictions can be eased and which should stay in place.

Those metrics are: numbers of new cases; percent of cases attributed to community spread; percentage of all tests that are positive; total COVID-19-related hospital admissions reported by hospitals; hospital bed availability; and intensive care unit bed availability.

Harrist said these data points will be updated and continuously evaluated.

"It is also important to note social distancing remains critical for now and for a while to come. I would also like to emphasize the importance of wearing face coverings in public settings both for the public and employees who work with the public now and moving forward," Harrist said.

In the forthcoming plans, some businesses like barber shops, salons and gyms are likely to be allowed to start reopening with some safety modifications, Gordon said.

"There are, I know, questions about opening bars and restaurants, and with input with the business task force, we are continuing to refine our plans to address these types of businesses," he said. "It is critical that we be measured in our approach particularly given the additional health risks associated with these businesses."

At the press conference, Harrist also noted limits facing widespread testing in a majority of the state.

"The overall lack of testing is a concern for us as we make big decisions about Wyoming's next steps. We know there are more cases out there than we have been able to identify, so it's hard for us to give you a complete picture. This is one of the many reasons we have to be cautious moving forward," she said.

The official transition plans will come out in the next week.

Harrist said the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory has recently been able to expand testing due to more supplies. She said the lab will now be able to accept samples from people with symptoms who are outside of priority groups [link].

She also said hospitals around the state may begin to start performing elective or non-emergent procedures. The state had recommended hospitals follow Centers for Disease Control and Preventive guidelines by opting not to do them in order to preserve personal protective equipment and other resources.

She added that this will have to be phased and in coordination with local public health officials' guidance.

Additionally, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said that under the Wyoming Department of Education's official guidance, districts around the state may be able to allow limited in-person instruction at school.

She said that's for special populations like those on individualized educational programs (IEPs) or students with special needs. However, that must be done with proper safety modifications, like social distancing, and schools will have to work with county health officials.

"I encourage all schools to examine the feasibility of utilizing this flexibility," she said.

Balow said that adapted learning plans for schools are approved to go through the end of this school year.

Some students may need to re-enter schools this summer, so districts need to start preparing, especially for special populations, she said.

She added all schools will be required to submit reopening plans to the department before opening this summer or in the fall.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at cwheel11@uwyo.edu.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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