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

Gordon Signs Three Bills For Relief, Urges The Public To Use Masks

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Gov. Mark Gordon updated the state on the recent legislation lawmakers passed during last week's special session.

Gordon praised the legislature's ability to work effectively in determining how and when to spend federal CARES Act funding. He said he will be signing the three bills that passed.

One of the bills gives the governor authorization to spend the $1.25 billion in federal relief aid, though it phases the spending between now, July and September. Four hundred and fifty million dollars will be available immediately. Gordon did exercise two line-item vetoes, which will give him more flexibility to distribute funds.

"We will be using the funding to provide assistance in several broad categories. Emergency response which includes direct expenses related to COVID-19, such as personal protective equipment, and expanding our testing and contact testing capabilities," he said.

Gordon said that will have an emphasis in gateway counties as they'll be expecting tourism surges now that national parks have opened in the state.

He added other ways they'll be directing the money is through new programs to support businesses and individuals. Those will be run through the Wyoming Business Council. The three programs will focus on small businesses with 50 or fewer employees by providing grants, especially to those businesses which were missed by the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Another program will help businesses with up to 100 employees, and the third will help Wyoming businesses of any size to cover COVID-19 related expenses.

Business Council CEO Josh Dorrell said they will be working on those guidelines and helping businesses apply for relief. The council will be holding webinars to assist businesses in applying for the funding.

Gordon said they'll also be looking to support economic development, local governments and tribal communities with the federal funds.

Additionally, State Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said the state will be starting a new program aimed at protecting staff and residents of long-term care facilities across the state.

Facilities where staff or residents who have contracted COVID-19 are asked to test everyone in the facility weekly until the outbreak has been eliminated. She said this will allow for early intervention. Harrist said the other half of this program will address these facilities, such as nursing homes, that have not had a COVID-19 outbreak.

"We are asking facilities without a current outbreak to collect samples of at least 20 percent of residents and staff every two weeks...This effort will help us to be sure we are not missing potential outbreaks among our citizens who are most vulnerable during this pandemic," Harrist said.

This comes as nine people at a Worland nursing home were confirmed to have the coronavirus. Harrist said the Wyoming Department of Health will be working with the facilities to get these processes set up.

Both Gordon and Harrist stressed the importance of wearing a mask when in a public setting as state and local restrictions start to ease.

Gordon said the state is trying to make the guidelines as adaptable as they can, and that wearing a face covering or mask can help prevent asymptomatic people from spreading the coronavirus.

"Wearing one is a sign of respect. It's also a way to make sure those people who aren't sure if they're going to venture out of their home and come back into the restaurants, come back into the other places can feel safer," he said. "We want our neighbors to all feel comfortable when they come out and re-emerge into this economy that is starting to awaken again."

Gordon said with Memorial Day weekend and summer approaching, it's especially important to not get complacent with social distancing guidelines so the numbers of cases do not sharply increase.

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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