From Dr. Brendan Fitzsimmons, Sublette County Health Officer
After much discussion with the Sublette County Incident Command Team tasked with dealing with our response to the coronavirus pandemic, I have decided to seek a variance to institute a mask mandate for indoor public spaces in Sublette County, as well as a prohibition on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people. While I understand this new countywide mandate may not be popular with all, as County Health Officer for Sublette County, I cannot ignore the gravity of the situation the citizens of this county now face with this deadly disease.
These are the reasons why I have chosen to take this step:
• Wyoming presently has one of the highest per capita transmission rates of COVID-19 in the United States, evidencing a serious health crisis;
• Sublette County lacks medical equipment and resources to treat serious cases of COVID-19, and options to transport seriously ill patients are greatly diminishing as regional hospitals are nearing or exceeding their capacity to accept patients suffering from COVID-19;
• Repeated and constant entreaties on the part of various public organizations to encourage mask wearing has produced little or no improvement in the amount of mask wearing in public spaces by the general public;
• Sublette County has for more than 1 month, had high rates of community spread of COVID-19 with increasing virulence;
• The University of Utah medical center, which has in the past served as a resource for gravely ill patients from Sublette County, has declared that they will likely be required to ration medical services under “crisis standards of care” protocol, resulting in medical care being provided to only those patients most likely to survive, leaving many elderly patients to die from COVID-19; and other hospitals may soon be unable to accept patients from Sublette County who require hospitalizations;
• Many Wyoming hospitals are already stretched beyond their capacities and capabilities and no longer have the ability to transfer critically ill patients; and
• Sublette County is the only County in Wyoming which does not have a hospital and has no innate ability to provide inpatient care for its citizens.
Therefore, additional mandates are necessary to protect the health and safety of Sublette County residents, which can be best accomplished by implementation of an order that gathering sizes be limited and that all persons who are indoors in public spaces wear face masks. These are basic mitigation measures designed to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19.
I have listened to, and carefully weighed, the arguments against mandatory mask orders. But on balance, the public health benefits in reducing the spread of this virus by wearing face masks and limiting the size of gatherings heavily outweigh other considerations.
• Comprehensive, systematic scientific reviews have concluded that face masks are effective, and could reduce risk of transmission of COVID-19 by up to 85 percent.
• Students in our school districts practice social distancing and wear masks, and we’ve not had major outbreaks in our schools because of their efforts. But the danger lies with the rest of the community, where mask wearing is not widespread.
• Wearing masks also allows businesses to stay open. Numerous businesses in this county have already had to close because staff members acquired the virus and there simply wasn’t enough staff to keep their doors open.
• Masks are free or inexpensive, and widely available for use by the public.
• The draft variance and order is posted on the county COVID-19 website. Please read it here to learn all the details. (See document at the bottom of this page. This is a draft document - the variance has not yet been approved by state officials.)
• Businesses will be required to post notices that faces coverings are required in a clearly visible location at or near the entrance of the business. Downloadable signs will also available on the county COVID-19 website.
• The Sublette COVID-19 Response Group will initially focus on providing support to businesses in their efforts to be in compliance with this order.
• Public enterprises, including schools and government offices, are expected to fully comply with this order.
• With this order, if a business asks a patron to leave for failure to wear a mask, and the patron refuses to do so, such a refusal would be a violation of state trespass law. The Sublette County Sheriff’s Office will enforce the trespass law in such cases.
• Any business that would like to comply with the order, but feels unable to do so, is encouraged to reach out to the Response Group for assistance. Unfortunately, there may be businesses that will not intend to comply with the order, and may encourage non-compliance from others. We will attempt to persuade these businesses to come into compliance. Should they fail to do so, I will publicly recommend that as a public health measure, the people of Sublette County avoid these locations.
While we are not yet drowning, we are chest-deep in this pandemic, and we do expect the situation to worsen as we move into winter. If we cannot slow the increasing spread of this virus, we will soon find our community in an unmitigated disaster.