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Campbell County Residents And Officials Against New State Health Orders

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Some residents in Campbell County are voicing their anger over the state's new mask mandate and other health orders.

Campbell County commissioners held a special meeting on Thursday to discuss Gov. Mark Gordon's recent updates to health restrictions, including a statewide mask order.

At least 10 people said that the mask requirement violates their personal freedom.

Many were also concerned about the impacts the pandemic has had on businesses and potential enforcement of the orders. They also questioned the science behind the effectiveness of mask usage.

Campbell County Republican Party Chair Vicki Kissak, who said she was speaking as a private citizen, spoke out against the mandate.

"We are very concerned and we will not comply. We will not comply with having the government tell us in a free nation in a free world what we're going to do in our lives," she said.

Kissack also called on the county elected officials to stand up for the community's concerns to state officials.

"We're asking you, as elected officials, to have those conversations on our behalf on the behalf of your community, we will have those conversations, but it is your responsibility for the job that you signed up for, to go on to the next level," she said.

Commissioner Bob Maul said that the focus doesn't need to be on requirements, rather people should evaluate why a mask can be important to the people around them, especially when county services are impacted by employees who are out sick.

"It's not a matter whether I give a rat's hiney whether you wear a mask or not, it's that I would like to see it where we can keep our employees healthy enough to provide the services that we have to provide. And so you got two sides to this whole coin thing," he said.

Gillette State Rep. Scott Clem also spoke up at the meeting, calling the mask mandate unconstitutional. Clem cited a 2012 amendment to the Wyoming Constitution about citizens making their own health care decisions, an amendment that was originally aimed at the Affordable Care Act.

He also said Campbell County should sue the state for the latest health orders.

"It needs to be challenged. Someone's got to challenge it, someone's got to. And I'm suggesting that it should be you," he said. "I'm suggesting and I'm requesting as a citizen and as a fellow elected official, that this body challenges these mandates, these unconstitutional mandates in a court of law for our citizens."

"I wish I had $30,000 that I could blow in a lawsuit. I would do that in a minute. I don't have that. But Campbell County does. And I think it is your duty as the local elected leaders of this county to push back," he said.

In November, the Gillette News Record reported commissioners are asking county departments to reduce their budgets by 15 to 20 percent.

Commissioner Rusty Bell noted that such an action could put a "big target on Campbell County."

"I think by having I mean, honestly, we're putting a target on Campbell County by having this meeting, not saying it's a bad thing, because we have to have these conversations," he said. "I just worry that... there's gonna be this big Campbell County files suit. And now we have auditors here looking, hey, were you abiding by the rules and this and that."

After the public comment period, Commissioner Del Shelstad made remarks about the politicization of the pandemic.

"I think it's really wrong when politics and the medical community collude against people. And that's exactly what's happened, in my opinion," he said.

Shelstad had COVID-19 earlier this year, he confirmed on his social media. He also said at the meeting that testing for COVID-19 should stop because it creates "mass hysteria."

"When I was a kid, if you got the flu, you stayed home, you had chicken noodle soup, and you stayed away from grandma until you felt better. This is really no different," he said.

"I almost feel glad now because I've had it and I can speak to what I know my experience was. And I realized that everybody's experiences are different. And some of them tragically end with death. That's the nature of life. We're all born to die. And I'm not trying to shed light that I think we need to die. We were all going to die at some point, and sickness is one of those things that causes death."

As of Thursday, 18 Campbell County residents have died from COVID-19, including late State Rep. Roy Edwards.

At the meeting, the commissioners also voted to proceed with applying for a variance that would allow businesses in the county to stay open to normal business hours if they have been impacted by the new statewide health orders. That will have to get approved by the state public health officer.

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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