Apr 8, 2020
Gov. Mark Gordon Wyoming Coronavirus Briefing April 8
Governor of Wyoming Mark Gordon held a press conference on April 8 on COVID-19. He requested a federal disaster declaration for the state. Read the full transcript here.
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Gov. Mark Gordon: (00:00)
Well. Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us here in the Capitol today. With me is Dr. Alexia Harrist, State Health Officer, Robin Cooley, director of our Department of Workforce Services, and Josh Dorrell, CEO of the Wyoming Business Council. I wanted to make sure we covered a few topics, but let me begin by saying the coronavirus is a very serious threat to all of us, and how we address it is incredibly important. I have said over and over again, it’s important to stay home, make sure you practice good hygiene, go to the store only when you need to, and go in small groups.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (00:53)
But I do want to speak a little bit about testing and the resources we are directing to slow the spread of COVID-19. I also want to talk about the resources that are available as we work to protect people’s livelihoods and support the businesses during this difficult time.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:11)
As of this morning, we are up to 221 confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the state with the largest number confirmed in Teton, Fremont and Laramie counties. We have seen 33 hospitalizations to date. A cumulative number, and some of those hospitalized have been released. While these numbers may not seem large when compared to the other astronomical numbers you’re hearing from other more populated states, it is critical and crucial that we not minimize the impact of this virus or the impact that this virus continues to have on our state’s healthcare system and our medical providers.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:53)
To ensure that we have a clear view of the statewide impact of this pandemic, the department of health is communicating with our hospitals daily. They are carefully tracking and monitoring our statewide bed capacity. We are particularly focused on places in Wyoming where there are the most confirmed cases and the healthcare facilities are most impacted.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (02:17)
I want to say a quick word about modeling. We are working to align and make our modeling process work better. The department of health is looking at that very carefully. We have seen that there are some differences in our numbers and those that are being reported on some sites. We’ll get more information for you on that soon.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (02:42)
On Monday, we delivered 3,900 sample collection kits assembled by the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory across this state. Their work on this has been absolutely incredible. And I want to thank them for their long hours and the diligence with which they are pursuing this incredibly important task. This is by far the largest delivery to date. This will help support statewide testing, but we do remain challenged by continuing shortage of testing materials at the state laboratory. We also share some concerns around the state. Yesterday I had assembled a conference call with all the pathologists in the state to get a better assessment on testing supplies that are necessary.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (03:36)
Want to say today I signed a letter requesting a disaster declaration for the state of Wyoming and the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. This declaration provides the opportunity for assistance from the US Army Corps of Engineers for construction of temporary medical facilities if needed. This follows on a conversation I had with Brigadier General Peter Helmlinger some couple of weeks ago in which I had a better understanding of what they could provide in terms of resources.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (04:10)
It also opens up our opportunity to receive additional federal resources and services for individuals including disaster unemployment assistance, legal services, and case management. I’m pleased to report that more than 260 out-of-state physicians and physician’s assistants have signed up to provide care to Wyoming patients. And the Wyoming board of medicine is working just speed reactivation of licenses held by retired Wyoming physicians and physician’s assistants who want to be of help in this incredible time of need.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (04:49)
We are also seeing increased utilization of telehealth thanks to collaborative statewide efforts. In the past month, the Wyoming telehealth network went from 500 telehealth licenses to 3000, a number that doesn’t include telehealth providers from our two largest medical facilities, Cheyenne Regional and the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper. Well, I will say this is allowed more of our healthcare providers to provide services to patients in their home, preventing them from being exposed or exposing our healthcare workers to potential illnesses. And I also want to make a comment on how important this has been for mental health, as well as we’ve seen this pandemic wind its way.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (05:42)
I now want to introduce Dr. Harris to speak a bit more about data and current recommendations. Dr. Harrist.
Alexia Harrist: (05:48)
Thank you, Governor Gordon. I’d like to share with you some updates from the Wyoming department of health. As most of you know, the centers for disease control and prevention, or CDC, now recommends cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain like grocery stores. This new recommendation is based on recent evidence that some people without symptoms can still spread the virus. Cloth face coverings can be purchased or made at home. Medical masks, such as surgical masks or N95 respirators, should be reserved for healthcare providers providing patient care.
Alexia Harrist: (06:28)
It’s very important to understand that wearing a face covering is not a substitute for social distancing. We still recommend that people stay home and away from others as much as possible, and to stay at least six feet away from others whenever possible when you do have to go out.
Alexia Harrist: (06:44)
I’d also like to introduce some new information that will be available on our website this afternoon. The first will be rates of COVID-19 infections in each county by population of that county. The second will be probable cases in each county. Probable cases are people who have the symptoms of COVID-19 and who have had close contact with a laboratory confirmed COVID-19 case, but who aren’t tested. Because we know that not everyone can get tested, including probable cases will give us a little better idea of how much COVID-19 is in our communities. At the same time, we continue to know that there will be more cases than can be counted as either confirmed or probable.
Alexia Harrist: (07:24)
Finally, I’d just like to clarify some laboratory testing information. Last week I spoke about the testing priorities for the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory. Whether any individual patient requires testing is determined by their healthcare provider. We aren’t telling providers that they can’t test outside the priority categories. We are just asking them to send those samples to other laboratories so that our lab can continue to provide testing for priority patients and situations. Thank you, Governor.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (07:51)
Thank you, Dr. Harrist. And I have continued to emphasize that our citizens need to stay at home. You heard that at the beginning of this message, and you’ll hear it a couple of times more. We want to make sure that we avoid gatherings. And I know on this Easter weekend how difficult that is. And I want to share a brief letter from Bishop Steven and a couple of paragraphs in the bottom that kind of indicate how critical this issue is.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (08:27)
An essential value behind… He’s talking about the way that Catholic church will be dealing with Easter services. An essential value behind our decisions is solidarity. We are obligated to do all that we can to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19, especially to elderly and people with underlying health conditions. Solidarity requires us to act to prevent any person from being infected. At this time public gatherings endanger those in attendance who in turn could infect others. We need to consider the common good of all people, not just our fellow Christians. We must be co-responsible citizens. And while ceasing public religious service is a drastic measure, it will mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. This is an essential way of loving our neighbor.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (09:22)
Initially Italy, closed the churches. And then pastors had outdoor masses, but bishops and police told them to stop. Those pastors wanted to feed their people spiritually, but the result was that more people were exposed to COVID-19 and are dying. By April 6, the death toll in Italy was 16,000 people, including 87 priests, a number of doctors. In the diocese of Bergamo alone, 25 priests have died. What I want to say by this is that it is important that we remember, and this Easter weekend, that we are a community, and we have a responsibility to our fellow neighbors.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (10:06)
And I will say too that it is heartening to me that so many churches and congregations have reached out to make their services available online in a way that doesn’t endanger people.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (10:24)
I’m also very happy to report that a recent mobility report from Google showed that statewide movement for retail and recreation locations is down 37% compared to before our public health orders were put into place. Workplace visits are also down by nearly 30% according to Google. This data shows that more people are staying home.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (10:57)
Last week, I also issued a directive requiring a 14-day quarantine for our out-of-state visitors and residents who leave the state for non-work-related purposes. We are asking folks to delay their visits to Wyoming at this time. Developed recreation sites are closed on the US Forest Service throughout the Rocky Mountain region, as is overnight camping in our state parks.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (11:24)
Wyoming Game and Fish Department has emailed the 43,000 non-resident hunting and fishing license holders, advising them of the current state restrictions on travel that require that 14-day quarantine for anyone who enters the state. And I have just this morning asked the commission to consider suspending the sale of short term fishing licenses simply because if you’re going to be here for 14 days before you go out, it doesn’t seem correct thing to do to issue a temporary or one-day licenses. The email that the game and fish sent stated that in no uncertain terms that if non-residents cannot abide by this directive, they should stay home. And I say that because we’re particularly concerned about our neighbors in a lockdown state like Colorado coming up to Wyoming or from Utah. And that message is also being shared at point of entry boat inspection stations.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (12:39)
And lastly, I’d like to ask all of our neighbors to resist coming to Wyoming for antler collection during this spring season. Game and fish is monitoring, fishing licenses sales daily. Non-resident daily licenses, which are a good indicator for non-resident visitor frequency, are currently down 21%. so obviously it’s working. While parking facilities, trails and trail heads are open on the National Forest and in our state parks, I’m asking folks to recreate close to home and to practice social distancing when they choose to go outdoors. And we all know that means no less than six feet. That means if you arrive at a recreation area, and there are a lot of people there, choose somewhere else to go. The safest choice is to stay local and recreate in and around the community you live in.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (13:36)
Now, I’d like to shift the discussion to our economy and the impacts of this virus on our workforce and business communities. At this time, I want to introduce Robin Cooley, director of Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, to talk about her agency’s work and the expanded benefits that are going to be available under the CARES Act. Director Cooley.
Robin Cooley: (14:03)
Thank you, Governor Gordon. And thank you for inviting me here today. My name is Robin Cooley. I’m the director of the Department of Workforce Services. And it’s my pleasure to be able to talk to you today about what we’re doing in our unemployment claims unit in order to handle the increased load that this situation has caused in our claims unit, as well as talk to you about implementation of the federal CARES Act and how that might impact you.
Robin Cooley: (14:34)
As you know, the numbers are up dramatically in our claims unit, threefold, and at times eightfold. But that’s happening all across the country. And the interesting part about that is the claimants that are coming in are actually claimants that have never filed claims before. What that does is it increases the difficulty that we’re having in addressing those claims because with individuals that they haven’t filed claims before, they don’t know how to handle the process, and they don’t know what to do and how to answer some of the questions. In order to address some of these increased claim numbers what we’ve done is we’ve started redeploying individuals from within our agency to handle some of the claims in that unit. We’ve also hired temporary staff to handle some of the claims in our call centers. But as well we’re working on implementing additional phone lines because I know the frustration that we’re hearing from individuals calling in that have to, they either have a wait time of numerous hours, or they’re getting through to a busy line, or they’re simply not getting through at all. So we are also working on rerouting other agencies that are on our phone trunk. For UI, we’re re rerouting those lines elsewhere, freeing up more lines in our UI call center to be able to handle the number of calls coming in.
Robin Cooley: (15:59)
But we’re also investigating other ways to cut down on the phone line issues. We’re looking at potentially contracting with a call center out there, and we’re looking at some other innovative options with using some Google spreadsheets and with outside claims takers in order to handle some of those claims. So we’re working on a number of issues. We know how difficult and frustrating it is for you out there, but please be patient with us while we try to work on some of these issues with you.
Robin Cooley: (16:28)
Another thing we’re doing though to try to handle the increased claims numbers is we’re changing our call process. What we’ve asked you to do is if your last name begins with A through M, please file your claim on Monday, Wednesday, or before noon on Friday. If your last name begins with N through Z, please file your claim Tuesday, Thursday, or afternoons on Friday. We’re hoping that will help to cut down some of that clog in that phone line. But as well, a number of the calls we’re getting are for password or pin resets in order to get into your claims file. What we’re asking you to do, if those are the questions you have and those are the needs you have immediately, please email DWScspui.email@example.com. And I think I might have mixed that up, so let me provide that to you again. It’s DWScspui. firstname.lastname@example.org. What this will do is, if you’ll provide us with your name, the last four digits of your social security number and your phone number, we’ll get back to you for the purpose of helping you set up those or reset those pins and passwords. Again, doing that will help us free up the phone lines to accept some of the additional questions we’re getting.
Robin Cooley: (17:59)
I want to stress that this alphabetical sorting system that we’ve implemented is applicable only to claims calling in by the phone. If you’re able to, please file your claim online at WYUI.wyo.gov. Those claims can be completed at any time. You don’t have to wait according to the alphabetical listings that we just indicated. And in most cases, filing online are going to be a lot quicker for you. You won’t get the busy signals or the wait times, so please do so if you’re able to do so. As everything we’re doing requires us to be flexible and just, trying these new process to address the issue of the clogged phones and the long wait times will assist you in getting your claims completed quicker.
Robin Cooley: (18:55)
Next, I’d like to talk to you about the new federal legislation. President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid Relief Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, on March 27th, 2020. Governor Gordon immediately signed the required agreement with DOL on Saturday, March 28th so that the state of Wyoming claimants are able to access those funds immediately for UI benefits beginning Sunday, March 29th. So Wyoming is prepared right now to accept federal funding for unemployed workers as soon as the programs can be implemented. DOL did issue guidance this past weekend on how to implement these programs, and we’re actively going through that guidance in order to determine what we need to do with our program to make this happen for Wyoming citizens.
Robin Cooley: (19:46)
I want to provide you with a short summary of the programs that we’re implementing initially, and these are the programs that will be able to provide benefits out to individual Wyoming citizens as quickly as we can. The first is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA program, which provides unemployment benefits to those that are not normally eligible to receive benefits. That’s going to be your gig workers, your contract workers, and your self-employed individuals. This benefit is retroactive to January 27th, 2020. I want to explain to you what that means. If you can show that you are eligible dating back to January 27th, or whenever you’re eligible dating back to that date.After that point, once these programs are implemented, you will get benefits back to that date that you become eligible for UI benefits. So even though it’s taking us awhile to get these programs implemented, your claim, your benefit will be retroactive to the date that you are eligible.
Robin Cooley: (20:51)
The next program is the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program or FPUC. This is the $600 per week that you’ve been hearing about in the news. And it’s eligible for any individual…
Robin Cooley: (21:03)
About in the news, and it’s for any individual eligible for any unemployment compensation program. The benefit here begins back to that March 29th, 2020 date I just mentioned. So those who were eligible for UI benefits of any kind dating back to March 29th we’ll get this benefit back to that date regardless of when we’re able to eventually implement the program. Those are our two top priority programs in order to start getting funds out to Wyoming citizens. And we want to make those happen for you. The third program is the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program or PEUC. This is the program you’ve been hearing about that provides 13 additional weeks of benefits added to the end of the regular unemployment benefit program.
Robin Cooley: (21:50)
So what this means is that claimants may collect unemployment benefits for a longer period of time than under normal circumstances. Again, I want to stress to you that it’s going to take time for us to implement these programs. They are very complex programs that the unemployment system itself is very complex and we can’t make this happen overnight. So we’re asking for your patients while we try to make this happen as quickly as possible. I want to tell you some things that we’re doing to try to make that happen for you.
Robin Cooley: (22:23)
First, we’re reviewing the DOL guidance very carefully and how to implement the program so we can implement them appropriately and accurately. We are coding and programming and getting ready to code and program our UI systems as they relate to each one of these individual programs. You should know that in November of this year, we launched a state of the art, a UI program. So we’re very fortunate to have that in place, but it still requires coding and programming in order to make these very complex systems work within that existing system.
Robin Cooley: (23:03)
We’re also working with a number of states in a state consortium to help with this process. So we’re all sharing coding and sharing some of the best practices again, in order to make this happen as quickly as possible. We also have current coding in our system though that we think can potentially just be replicated for that PUA program. So that might help us get that online a little quicker. If I were to give you a timeline right now, what we’re shooting for and no promises, but we’re hoping to make this happen the last week of April, Somewhere around the weekend of April 27th. Make it somehow happen that week. If we’re able to do it quicker, we’ll get that on social media and make sure that you’re aware of that and we will update that timeline as we go forward and get some better ideas on the timeline for this.
Robin Cooley: (24:03)
I would also like to talk to you about businesses in general in Wyoming and what we’re doing for them as it relates to workers’ compensation and unemployment taxes that may be due. We know a number of you have concerns about your experience rating. We have the attorney general’s office looking at that issue. This time, it may take legislative action, but we are looking at some creative ways to help make that happen. So with experience ratings, please stay tuned. We’ll provide more information on that later. As it relates to workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance taxes that are due. As you know, the first quarter of 2020 reporting for work comp and unemployment insurance taxes will remain due the last day of the month following the end of the quarter, which is still April 30th.
Robin Cooley: (24:54)
However, with work comp, what we’re going to be doing is any interest or late file penalties that accrue from quarter one of 2020 reporting, that are related to or a direct result of COVID-19 will be considered for write-off if the employer sends a written request with evidence of that information. Similarly, with unemployment insurance taxes, any interest that accrues from quarter one 2020 reporting, due to issues related to the direct result of COVID-19 will be considered for a waiver if the employer sends in a written request with evidence of that information. So we hope that that provides you with some comfort as it relates to those taxes that may be coming due.
Robin Cooley: (25:42)
I also want to alert you to the fact that during this last 2020 legislative session, although not directly related to the COVID-19 situation, the legislature passed and the governor signed a rate holiday provision for businesses paying work comp premiums. The premium credit will be 8.33% of all premiums paid in 2019. It will be effective July 1, 2020 and can be used for premium payments through December 31st of 2020. Employers must be in good standing with the division as of June 15th, 2020 to receive this premium credit. We will be sending out a series of letters outlining more about this program and what you will need to do to qualify, but on the other side of this that might give you a little bit of relief as a business submitting some of that information. So thank you governor and I will be happy to take questions when appropriate.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (26:45)
Thank you director Cooley and I want to give a kudos to you and your entire team for working as hard as they can. I know it’s been difficult for people trying to out to the department just because we’re slammed and I put that in this context. The other night I heard one of my colleagues in the East, that was talking about states that remained open for business in his words. Wyoming, I just wanted to assure, you’ve heard about the number of unemployments we’ve had. You’ve heard about the surge of requests. I want to assure any of my fellow governors that we have closed a number of businesses, not happily, but because we wanted to recognize the importance of closing restaurants and the various other things we’ve done in our orders. And I feel my heart does go out to those that are struggling. I hear about them every single day. I hear from them every single day and we are doing everything in our power to be able to address the challenges that are there.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (28:02)
At this time, I’d like to introduce Josh Dorrell, CEO of Wyoming Business Council, who will discuss the assistance available to businesses and planning that is occurring as we begin to strategically think about how our economy is going to emerge from this crisis. Josh.
Josh Dorrell: (28:25)
Thank you Governor Gordon and thank you all for being here. You said it very well. It is a challenging time for businesses and the health of our families, friends and employees definitely comes first. But the health of Wyoming’s businesses is also very important and in many cases, especially in Wyoming, businesses have been hit very hard by the effects of COVID-19. In some cases because we’ve flattened the curve very well. We’ve done a good job of that. We haven’t seen the health effects maybe that others have and our businesses are doing their best but they are affected and health comes first. And one of the things that the business council and the governor’s task force has been doing is working to provide as much support as possible during these really tough times. And to that end, we’re looking at not just right now in the emergent things because those are important.
Josh Dorrell: (29:23)
However, we’re looking at also the midterm and the longer term effects and we want to be prepared for all of those because as we emerge from this, we want to be ready for that recovery. And a year down the road from now we don’t want to have put our recruitment efforts on hold because of it and be behind. And so as we look at the short term, very urgent and emergent things, we want to also take note of those medium term and long term things. So that we can be ahead when we get emerging from this.
Josh Dorrell: (29:55)
As far as Cares Act programs, those really fit into the urgent and emerging needs category and many of those programs are the mechanics are not known. However, we do know about the SBA idle or economic injury disaster loans and the paycheck, excuse me, the payroll protection program. Those two items are really important and what we know about those, is that those are immediate, those are enact and those have been taken advantage of greatly by Wyoming companies. In fact, we don’t have the stats here today, but I can tell you that since last Friday with the PPP, we have had a number of people reaching out and saying, “Hey, it’s so busy, I’m having a hard time getting through.” What we want to assure you is that the banks and the SBA director has been working very, very hard and I would say that there have been some challenges and I’m sure that many of the businesses have felt those.
Josh Dorrell: (30:57)
But we want to remember that in less than a week banks, the SBA and the federal government have put out a program that will probably put in hundreds of millions of dollars into the Wyoming businesses in less than a week. And so with that, they’re going to be challenges. And while patience is a tough thing right now, when you’re struggling in your business, we want to encourage people to work with their local banks and make sure that they take advantage of these programs, but realize there’s a lot going on and we know about it and we’re working to help out.
Josh Dorrell: (31:29)
Another challenge that we know, is that we’re going to face that each of these banks is really going to encounter very soon. It has to do with liquidity. And while I know there are efforts being made at higher levels to change that. I know that at the local level there’s some very exciting things going on with local banks working together to help each other maintain liquidity and still stick with the regulations that are put forth to them. So I think that really shows the spirit of collaboration and it shows that the people on the ground are really working hard to make this work and to band together to do our best to help Wyoming’s economy.
Josh Dorrell: (32:10)
Now. We also know that the USDA is going to be coming out with some guidance here shortly as well and the congressional western caucus meeting with USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue is happening tomorrow on Thursday. So we expect some more guidance coming from that. Now when it comes to the governor’s task force, we’ve been working closely with businesses, with our other agency partners in the governor’s office to really provide information to the governor as well as to those businesses out there. In fact, on last Friday we had a listening session where nearly 400 people showed up to listen in, to dial in and learn more about the PPP and also the families first coronavirus act. And what we found is that there were many questions around those things and what we also understand is that those are really helping to serve some of those urgent needs.
Josh Dorrell: (33:04)
And while it’s not going to be a silver bullet or something that’s going to solve all of the problems of businesses, it is going to provide some help during this very difficult time. And with that, what we also found, as director Cooley mentioned, many of the businesses that we are talking with have never reached out for assistance. I think that’s also a Wyoming quality. We are very self sufficient and we tried our best to solve problems on our own, but at a time like this, I want to encourage people to reach out to their Wyoming business council, regional directors. As well as the small business development center directors in their communities and ask for that business help because what we’re finding is that those folks that really need assistance can get it from the SBDC as well as the WBC and understanding how those programs can work and also understanding how to best run your business in this time of crisis. That little extra help goes a long way.
Josh Dorrell: (34:04)
And so that’s going to help us not only in the short term but also develop programming and make sure that we’re developing education that will help the most in the future. I guess that takes us to recovery and really not to diminish the tough times that are ahead of us in the next few weeks, but we need to be prepared for recovery because it’s not going to be just like a light switch. So we’re putting together plans right now. So that businesses can effectively recover and also realize that not only does it take the business itself and the public itself, but it also takes the other departments within the state government to work together and have alignment. We’re actually providing guidance not based on the calendar because we don’t understand the timing of things, but what we do know is the stage that the virus is in and how it’s spreading. And because of that, we can put guidance out that is based on that stage rather than based on the calendar. And that’s going to help businesses plan for the future and for the recovery.
Josh Dorrell: (35:04)
So taking those different levels of guidance into consideration, we’ll be putting a plan out that will work with not only the other agencies within the state, but also within the municipalities and the chambers of commerce around the state to make sure that there’s alignment Because there’s nothing worse than saying, “We’re open for business, but there are other regulations that might be at risk or there might be other municipality rules that you cannot avoid.” And we want to make sure that we’re in alignment there and so we’ll be working very hard on that recovery phase. It’s an important part.
Josh Dorrell: (35:38)
The other thing that with recovery is going to take, again, I think a concerted effort and people to have some patients as well as people making sure that they’re paying attention to those guidance orders that are coming out. So that we can have done effectively. And then finally, when we all move past this and as we work through recovery, we still want to be focused on recruitment and we’re doing more of that now. Clearly, we’re doing less travel and we’re not doing the conferences that we’ve done in the past. However, our team is still looking to recruit businesses and to show the great things that Wyoming has to offer. And really, right now, our sparse population and beautiful locales might actually be more attractive than ever before.
Josh Dorrell: (36:24)
And so as we look at that, we’re trying to find out how to bring remote workers in later, how to make sure that companies that want to escape those densely populated areas can take advantage of what Wyoming has to offer. Those efforts will not stop because we know that it can’t just be about today or yesterday. It’s got to be also about a few weeks from now, a few months from now, and down the road in the coming years that’s going to help Wyoming’s economy. Now, this is a super tough time for businesses around the state. As Governor Gordon mentioned, we hear about it every day, and it’s very tough to hear your friends, your neighbors, and the tough times that they’re going through and their businesses are suffering. But we’ve also seen some very creative ways to help keep businesses afloat. We’ve also seen businesses band together, not just to save their own businesses but to help their communities and while we know it’s going to be challenging, I feel like we’re going to emerge in much stronger position than we’ve ever been.
Josh Dorrell: (37:23)
So the Wyoming spirit, I look at it as very ingenious, self-sufficient and community driven and I think that this crisis is really showing that and the business council is happy to be part of it. And in terms of questions as director Cooley mentioned, I’ll be happy to take those after Governor Gordon.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (37:47)
Thanks Josh. And I think the important message about recovery and how we’re approaching that and the work you’ve put into that along with your fellow task force members and the other task force as well. Let me just say that one of the things that is, there are so many great ideas that are coming out of these task forces. That we have and put under the Secretary of State Buchanan’s tutelage, the sort of resourcing of all of these efforts. So that we know where we are on the page as a state every given day. I wanted to make sure that people of Wyoming understood that because secretary of state stands, second to me. I have a face mask here that was delivered to me and I haven’t learned how to talk through it yet, but I do wear it.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (38:37)
But I want to make sure that people understand that should something happen to me and which I am very concerned about the possibility of anybody in our command structure being laid low by this very virulent virus, that we have a chain of command that’s effective and doesn’t lose a beat and keeps going. Before we take questions. I want to reiterate that in consultation with Dr. Harris, I continue to work with her to make adjustments to our statewide approach to protect the public health.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (39:13)
Just Monday, in a telephone or a television conference with the president, Dr. Fauci had this to say after repeatedly saying that every state should have a shelter in place order. He said, “I’ve had good conversations with Governor Pete Ricketts and Governor Kim Reynolds, and it’s interesting that functionally, even though they have not given a strict stay at home, what they are doing is really functionally equivalent to that.” I’ve had conversations recently with Governor Ricketts, Governor Reynolds and Governor Noem, Governor Bullock of Montana, and I want to just emphasize as a region, we are looking at ways that we can share resources. We are looking at ways that we have adequate staffing, adequate facilities for medical conditions should they continue to be a challenge.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (40:08)
I am really delighted that as governors, we all work together. We constantly try to monitor what’s going on in each other’s state and I’m really happy to report that we do have that sharing of perspective. Well, let me just say lastly, just to reaffirm if you’re hunting sheds and you’re from out of state, don’t come. Unless, you plan to be here 14 days before you start hunting those sheds. And let me finish by saying we should all be staying vigilant, not relaxing our commitment. I know it’s hard, particularly as the weather’s getting better, but we need to stay at home and avoid gatherings. We need to minimize our trips to the store. We need to keep the size of our gatherings to a very small level. We need to constantly wash our hands. Dr Fauci recommends washing your hands 50 times a day for 20 seconds.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (41:14)
Josh has talked to you and I certainly recognize the economic impacts of COVID-19 and they become more visible as time goes on. I want to say how much, I really want to express how proud I am of the first lady’s efforts to make sure that people in Wyoming, the food truck of the Rockies and the hunger initiative have visited a number of communities and fed hundreds of people. This is what Wyoming does. We come together in times of need. We support neighbor to neighbor. The danger this virus presents is very real. Nobody’s making any light of that, but I also want to commend the people of Wyoming for standing up and doing what needs to be done. You’ve limited your travel …
Gov. Mark Gordon: (42:03)
… needs to be done. You’ve limited your travel. We’re seeing that in those data. We have fewer people on the road. We have smaller gatherings. These are all positive signs. I Believe by continuing that commitment, we will be able to further address this public threat, and we will be able to move our state forward to a place with a strong recovery.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (42:27)
With that, I have opportunities for questions. There’s one that was submitted prior to from Angus Thuermer of WyoFile. It says, “The General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to furnish to each worker employment and a place of employment which are free of recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm,” and, quote, “What does this mean for workers in grocery stores, minors on a bus, construction workers carpooling? Must the employer supply them with masks or pay for their mileage so they drive to work individually?” Director Cooley, do you want to take that?
Robin Cooley: (43:17)
Yes. Thank you, Governor Gordon. We’ve been getting those types of questions into our OSHA unit, and we’ve been discussing them with our state occupational epidemiologist, Meredith Towle, as well. Those are questions we take. They are questions and complaints that we investigate. There are a couple of those that we’re looking into right now.
Robin Cooley: (43:41)
But I would also like to direct you to our website, where we have a number of business and OSHA guidelines that are in there that I think can probably run down the requirements better than I can here. So it is an issue we’re looking at and an issue we’re addressing actively. Thank you, Governor.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (44:04)
Thank you, Director Cooley. We’ve been trying to get our communication skills in this new capital up to speed, so, hopefully, the phone lines are working, and we’ll see how that goes.
Governor, this is Seth [inaudible 00:44:23]. Can you hear me?
Gov. Mark Gordon: (44:26)
Yes, I can, Seth. Thank you.
Yeah. You talked a little bit on Friday and sounded pretty frustrated about FEMA diverting shipments. Can you talk a little bit more about that and what happened there?
Gov. Mark Gordon: (44:40)
Well, I think, Seth, thank you for that question. It’s about whether FEMA is diverting shipments, and I think every state in our region and, in fact, almost every state is running into this. As you know, supplies are coming in. Operation Airbridge is bringing supplies from overseas and then distributing that to private companies that we’re then supposed to go reach out to to see if we can get those supplies.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (45:10)
What we’re finding, what we’ve found, what other states are finding is that often, unfortunately, more often than any of us would like, those supplies are being diverted by the federal government. I have to say this. It’s absolutely true that, in places like New York, we see it every day. We see the number of deaths they have. Their need is true. My heart goes out to them.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (45:37)
But in the process of making sure that we get all those supplies to the hot spots that might be emerging in Louisiana or elsewhere, that we not forget places like Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, Idaho. So it is terribly frustrating. It’s something we’ve brought up over the past couple of weeks on White House phone calls. It’s something I spoke to Vice President Pence on earlier this week on our conference call, the critical supplies of PPE and also testing supplies. Thank you. Next question.
Just to go off that, if I can, real quick, so are these shipments that Wyoming had paid for or that we were receiving from FEMA and hadn’t paid for?
Gov. Mark Gordon: (46:28)
These are orders that we had to supply and put in in the stack. I cannot speak, Seth, to whether we had paid for them or not. I know that they were confirmed orders that were supposed to come our way.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (46:48)
Bob Beck: (46:48)
This is Bob Beck at Wyoming Public Radio. I have a question for Dr. Harris, if I may.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (46:54)
Bob Beck: (46:57)
I heard you say, Dr. Harris, that you’re going to try and start listing some of the probables around the state. A question that we constantly are getting asked and see is that is this a lot bigger than the numbers that we’re seeing coming out as positive tests? Could you maybe comment on what you suspect is out there?
Alexia Harrist: (47:16)
Sure. Thank you for that question. I can’t give specific numbers on what I think is out there, but I think and we’ve been saying for several weeks now that we know that there are more cases of COVID-19 in Wyoming that we’ve detected through laboratory testing, because we know not everybody with compatible symptoms can get a test, in terms of our Wyoming public health laboratory, if providers are sending samples to us, asking them to prioritize specific types of patients who are more severely ill, who are healthcare workers, or who may be more at risk for severe illness, such as older people and people with underlying medical conditions.
Alexia Harrist: (47:55)
So yes, there are certainly more people in Wyoming who have COVID-19 than we’re going to be able to detect through laboratory testing or even through identifying probable cases, which, again, are symptomatic close contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases.
Bob Beck: (48:13)
Are you getting the sense that there are some areas that … I’ll use Albany County, since it’s where I’m sitting, that have, I think, listed four or five cases, that it’s a lot larger in some places like that?
Alexia Harrist: (48:28)
A lot larger in places that maybe only have a few cases right now?
Bob Beck: (48:32)
Alexia Harrist: (48:33)
Okay. Yeah, and some of that, we can look at by our case investigation. So during our case investigations, and this is on our website, I identify what may be a potential source of infection. In many cases, we can identify specific clusters, where we know that certain people were exposed to others and have a good idea where the source of infections are.
Alexia Harrist: (48:58)
That’s a different situation than when we’re identifying cases who have, again, just there’s no readily identifiable source, seem to be going about their daily business, and developed COVID-19. That’s an indicator of community transmission.
Alexia Harrist: (49:14)
So there are certainly indicators in several areas of Wyoming that community transmission is occurring, whereas, in others, we’re really, again, able to identify clusters of cases with identifiable sources. So it is variable throughout the state, if that’s helpful.
Bob Beck: (49:31)
Mark Bentley: (49:33)
This is Mark Bentley with 307NETRADIO in Buffalo. I have a question for Dr. Harrist. Dr. Harrist, you stated earlier that several thousand new test kits have been sent out around the state. The bottleneck, however, seems to be in getting them dealt with in Cheyenne, where [inaudible 00:49:59]. Is that true, and how is that going to be dealt with?
Alexia Harrist: (49:57)
I’m sorry. Could you repeat that question? It was a little bit … Could you speak up a little bit? Thank you.
Mark Bentley: (50:11)
Yeah, I’m sorry. The new test kits that have been sent out around the state for use by the local hospitals and other medical people, how is that going to relate to the amount of testing that’s available in Cheyenne at the Department of Health?
Alexia Harrist: (50:30)
So the question is testing that could be set up at hospitals around the state, how would that compare to the testing that’s currently done at the Wyoming Department of Health? Did I get that right?
Mark Bentley: (50:41)
Sort of. Do you have the capability to do significantly more tests at the Department of Health?
Alexia Harrist: (50:48)
Yes. Okay. Thank you. Sorry. Sorry for that. So we have some limiting factors that, right now, are factors that are somewhat out of our control in that specific reagents we need to do the testing are in short supply across the country. Essentially, all the states need them to do the testing. So we put orders in, and we get small shipments of them that are able to keep us going for days to weeks at a time.
Alexia Harrist: (51:19)
But that is why we’re asking providers to prioritize samples that they’re sending to us. In terms of increasing the efficiency of the testing or the throughput, we do have ways to do that and have plans in place to do that but, unfortunately, because these certain reagents which we need are limited, are unable to do that at this time.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (51:49)
Thanks very much. Is there another question?
This is Jim [inaudible 00:51:55] Bigfoot 99 radio. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about … I know you probably have information. Dr. Harrist doesn’t want to talk about the numbers, but surely you have some information about when you see the case load peaking in Wyoming, beginning to taper off, and I wonder if you have looked ahead to create a plan about how you will begin to lift the public health order that will begin statewide [inaudible 00:52:30] people began to lift the orders, will it be by community or business sector by business sector? Have you had a chance to look ahead to a plan of lifting the public health orders?
Gov. Mark Gordon: (52:43)
Yeah, sure, Jim. Thank you very much for that question. Let me take a little bit of spin on it, and then I might turn it over to Dr. Harrist and to Josh, who both have pieces of that question, which is how do we begin to think about lifting these orders, and, looking ahead, what is our notion of the peak?
Gov. Mark Gordon: (53:11)
As a result of communicating with my fellow governors, so it was brought to my attention that North Dakota yesterday, on the healthdata.org, the IHMS site, which is what the White House has used and a number of others, was indicating that North Dakota had 29 actual deaths. In fact, North Dakota had four deaths at that point, and that is not a criticism of the model. It just is a factor of models. Models are inherently dependent on the data that they get. In our case, in Wyoming, we were unclear that we were getting accurate numbers of data.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (53:58)
Dr. Wheeler, when he was down here the other day, was pointing out their concerns, the Wyoming Medical Society’s concerns with that particular site, because it didn’t seem to have the right number of hospital beds. Yet, that seems to be one of the big predicting models that we all are paying attention to.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (54:18)
My point here is that the data that are coming in is noisy, and so it serves as a sort of general indication of what we might see. As those models are run, and we’ve been trying to get our Department of Health in contact with IHMS statisticians, but the point is that, as those models are run, they change.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (54:45)
We do believe that our efforts to date have pushed the peak out a bit, and I’ll let Dr. Harrist talk a little more directly about that. But I just did want to point out that, as much as I would love to say there is a specific day and a specific time when we will see the peak, that remains a little occluded at this point. Dr. Harrist.
Alexia Harrist: (55:15)
Thank you. I do think, and I think I said last week, too, that, certainly, where we are on the curve is an indicator of when we may be able to come back on some of the state public health orders, if we’re confident that we’re seeing a decreasing number of cases every day.
Alexia Harrist: (55:34)
Certainly, another factor would be what our hospitals systems are looking like. Do we still have capacity? Are our beds full? Are we able to care for the patients that need care? Certainly, that would be a factor in those decisions, and then whether we would do that on a regional versus statewide basis. I mean, I think those things are both things to consider, depending on what we see going around the state, although there is, I think, some importance in acting in a uniform way across the state, since we know that people do travel between counties for work or shopping relatively frequently.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (56:15)
Jim, let me invite Josh back. His task force has been looking, again, kind of at re-emergence.
Josh Dorrell: (56:27)
Our efforts there have been centered mostly around the logistics that will be required of businesses during those different phasesm because, as you all know, if you are being impacted by this, in your business or as a customer of the business, we know that the logistics around that are a little bit dicey, and it takes people time to recover and to put those logistics into place.
Josh Dorrell: (56:50)
So ours is really around planning, not only how do you interact with the public, but also how do you interact with your supply chain to make sure that those things are ramping up slowly and then being able to go as the market allows? So, really, again, focusing on the planning aspect, businesses love to be able to plan, and uncertainty is the name of the game right now. That’s tough for businesses. So we’re working to really help get those planning parts in place so that you can handle the logistics.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (57:21)
Then lastly, Jim, just to sort of come back on the model piece of it, a lot of models concentrate on numbers of beds. I think we’ve explained a couple of times that beds are a concern in Wyoming, but not as big a concern as the people who are running them. So let me just say a word of support and thanks and kudos to the folks at SageWest in Lander and Riverton, the folks in Teton at St. John’s, the folks down here at CRMC. They’re really taking the brunt of a very difficult set of circumstances. One of the things that the medical task force has looked at is ways that we can give some relief to those people so that they aren’t constantly in the kind of crisis condition that they are.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (58:14)
But we do monitor that very carefully, things like ventilators. Again, the data on ventilators is a bit noisy. Some of the anesthesia units can be modified. We’ve been looking at other technologies to be able to buttress and augment the capacities that are there, both at hospitals and then maybe some other opportunities there.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (58:46)
So we’re trying to get a real handle on those data to be able to make sure our model is much better. But we are a long ways from out of the woods, but we are thinking about what it’s going to look like when we get to the other side. Thank you.
Governor, thank you for that thorough answer. Just one quick followup, you did say that you are pushing out a little bit on when the peak would come. Are we talking mid-May now?
Gov. Mark Gordon: (59:17)
Doctor Harrist, do you want to try to take a shot at that?
Alexia Harrist: (59:28)
There are a lot of models out there, and it depends which one you look at, where it says Wyoming’s peak will be. I don’t want to say I think the peak will be mid-May. We don’t have enough certainty in that to be able to reassure people that that will happen.
Alexia Harrist: (59:51)
What I think we have done is, through the public health orders that we’ve written, flatten the curve, as everyone says, which does mean pushing the peak out a little bit so that we can make sure that patients are coming into our hospitals at a rate that they can be taken care of.
Alexia Harrist: (01:00:08)
We are looking at a variety of models, some of which do have the ability to incorporate Wyoming-specific parameters and assumptions. We’re also using our own data to look at where we are and using and refining our estimates of Wyoming hospital and healthcare system capacity to make them more useful as well.
Alexia Harrist: (01:00:27)
So I think we’ve pushed the peak out, but I think we’ll just have to keep monitoring the data that we have, both in our healthcare systems and in our epidemiologic systems, to know when we’re going to reach that peak, when we’ve reached it, and when we’re starting to come down.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:00:47)
Thank you. Any other questions?
Barbara Ann: (01:00:48)
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:00:49)
Barbara Ann: (01:00:49)
Speaker 2: (01:00:50)
Barbara Ann: (01:00:50)
This is Barbara Ann from Big Horn County.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:00:53)
Hi, Barbara Ann.
Barbara Ann: (01:00:55)
Hi. Thank you guys so much for adding the additional statistics. I did have one question for you. There are some people that have reached out that are from Cheyenne that are concerned that the state employees are still coming into the state from Colorado, from the hotspots. I’m just wondering, is there any plan to address that, or are you taking special actions to make sure that they’re not bringing anything as they travel from home to work?
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:01:25)
Barbara Ann, you point out an important issue, and it’s not only at the state. It’s also at the Air Force. There are people that live in Northern Colorado, and we have been fairly direct in suggesting that they take additional precautions. You’ll note that my quarantine order really talked about coming into the state for non-work-related reasons, and so we are monitoring people on a daily basis.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:01:54)
Again, same advice that we’ve given in the past. If you feel at all ill, please don’t come in. We have really expanded, and I want to thank Director Cooley and also what we call our enterprise technology services for standing up, really, what kind of surprised, I think, all of us, how well it’s worked, telecommuting.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:02:17)
So as much as we can, we’re making sure people stay away. We’ve tried to implement procedures in the lobbies of some of our agencies so that people can come in and have access, let’s say, to a phone or to a terminal of some sort. But we’re really trying to make sure that the public access is somewhat limited and then really relying on our workers to take care of themselves.
Barbara Ann: (01:02:48)
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:02:48)
Thank you. Next question. Oh, and thanks for the lovely verses you send me every day. Really is uplifting. Thank you. Next question.
Barbara Ann: (01:02:57)
You’re very welcome.
Speaker 2: (01:03:00)
Governor Gordon, this is Billy Arnold from the Jackson Hole News&Guide.
Billy Arnold: (01:03:02)
Governor Gordon, this is Billy Arnold from The Jackson Hole News and Guide. I have two questions about funding for unemployment programs. The first is how much does the state currently have in it’s unemployment fund and is it enough?
Billy Arnold: (01:03:17)
Then the second is the Family First Coronavirus Act, not the CARES Act, the one that came before it, could see Wyoming allocated two payments of about $900,000 for the administration of a UI program. Is Wyoming pursuing that funding? If not, why not? If so, what is that funding going to go towards?
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:03:39)
I’m going to turn that to Director Cooley.
Director Cooley: (01:03:45)
Thank you, Governor.
Billy Arnold: (01:03:46)
Director Cooley: (01:03:47)
As it relates to the UI fund, I don’t have that figure right in front of me. But I can tell you at a state or a nationwide document that I just looked at this morning, as of January of 2020, our unemployment insurance trust fund was the third healthiest fund in the country. We are working with another national organization, today actually, to look at some of the modeling with some of the claims that we’ve had in order to ensure that our trust fund will be healthy throughout the term of this situation. But I feel very comfortable where we started with that fund as healthy as it was. I can tell you we can get a number out there I think. I mean it’s public knowledge and we’ll get that number out there in the public on our website if that would be beneficial.
Director Cooley: (01:04:48)
You also referred to the first funding stream that came from the federal government. We actually did take full advantage of that funding stream. Unfortunately, that money is not for a UI claimants, that money is actually for administrative costs for our agency to try to ramp-up to administer the increase in funds. The first part of that funding stream comes whether you do anything different or not. The first part of that funding stream will come into the state very easily. The second part of that funding stream actually comes in after we do a few things requested by the Department of Labor. One of those things is that we relax our work search requirements for some of our individuals that are applying for unemployment insurance that have found themselves unemployed through no fault of their own and based only because of this COVID-19 situation.
Director Cooley: (01:05:51)
We worked very closely with our Unemployment Insurance Commission who is actually responsible for the unemployment rules. They worked very quickly with their attorney general and we’d have emergency rules in place in order to relax that work search requirement so that we can start accessing those funds. We’re fully on board with that. We’re ready to access those funds as quickly as we can. Yes, we did take part in that to the full degree. Thank you. Thank you, Governor.
Billy Arnold: (01:06:21)
Got it. Thank you. Just as a follow-up question, what currently is the status of work search requirements in Wyoming? What is the work search requirement for people applying for UI at this time?
Director Cooley: (01:06:34)
The work search requirement is, if I can get it straight here in explaining it, if you are accessing unemployment insurance benefits because you were unemployed prior to the COVID-19 situation, you are still required to do a work search. I believe it’s you have to show that you applied for or were looking at least twice during the week, each week applying for jobs. Because there are jobs out there. There are businesses that do need employees.
Director Cooley: (01:07:12)
If you are unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 situation, that work search requirement is waived because in most instances, and the hope is certainly that you’re unemployed with a business that is going to open up on the other side of this and when we can actually open the state up for business. Those individuals are what’s called job attached. With that job attachment, that work search requirement is waived. Did I fully answer that question?
Billy Arnold: (01:07:51)
Yes, you did. Thank you.
Director Cooley: (01:07:52)
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:07:56)
Yeah, and thank you for that. I just want to follow up quickly on that too just by way of information. Our office and the task forces have been working with the legislature. As you know there could be a special session at some point, but we want to make sure that we have legislators have prepared. One of the possibilities is there’s a program that Director Cooley referred me to called Work Share, where if let’s say you’re working 40 hours a week and you’ve been reduced to 30, our particular problem is we don’t have a provision in our law that allows for you to make up that difference. We’re going to work with the legislature to see if we can amend that feature.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:08:47)
Then I also wanted to just point out that our workers’ compensation fund is unbelievably healthy. The efforts that we undertook a couple of years ago to what’s called 10 or matching, making sure our obligations match with what we expect the actuarial demand to be are properly matched. We’ve really done a good job there.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:09:14)
Hi. This is Joshua from the Casper Star-Tribune.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:09:21)
I have a question for Dr. Harrist. Today Wyoming hasn’t experienced a COVID-related death. Of course, we’re the only state to not have a death at this point. Is that a function of anything we’re doing here or a circumstance here? Or is that a function of small sample sizes?
Dr. Harrist: (01:09:41)
Thank you. I mean the bottom line is, I don’t know. I think that the virus is as serious here as it is anywhere else. Unfortunately, I do expect that we will see deaths in Wyoming from this virus, which is why we’re taking it so seriously. I know that we have had several patients who have been extremely ill, but have received great medical care and have recovered, which is excellent.
Dr. Harrist: (01:10:12)
I don’t think I can really speculate on the reason. We’re of course, a smaller state. We do expect to have fewer cases and deaths than other states just simply for that reason. I certainly hope that it continues, but unfortunately we know that this virus can be especially serious and deadly for some people.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:10:35)
Thankfully there’s a lot of wood in here. I’m going to knock it.
Angus Thuermer: (01:10:41)
I’ve got a question for Dr. Harrist. This is Angus Thuermer from WyoFile. Are pathologists and coroners testing people who die to see whether their death may be related to this virus?
Dr. Harrist: (01:10:59)
Yes. We are aware of pathologists and coroners who have tested, who have taken post-mortem samples from people who died with symptoms or findings that could be consistent with coronavirus and so far the tests have been negative.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:11:21)
Hey. This is Andrew from WyoFile. I’d like to follow-up on that OSHA question from the beginning when you guys start taking questions and how you talked about guidances for the employer on OSHA. I was wondering Governor if you have any message or guidance for those workers in retail or construction, even been office workers who are unable to follow the directives to stay at home because their place of employment is still open and their employer expects them to show up.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:11:56)
Thank you, Andrew. We have continually pushed to make sure that stores do their best to protect workers. Reportedly Menards has not done a particularly good job here. There have been crowds assembled at checkout lines and other things. Lowe’s on the other hand has taken some precautions. I needed to go out to PetSmart the other day and only 10 people are allowed in. All the staff were wearing masks. They requested that people wear masks.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:12:29)
Albertsons and King Soopers down here are now delivering groceries to your car. I think we are adapting. I would continually encourage … I think there are heroes and there are zeros. I continue to encourage people to shop at the places that they see the heroes, the ones that take care of their workers. The zeros they can avoid, which will solve the problem both ways. One, people won’t frequent stores that don’t take those precautions and two, they’ll reduce the crowds at those stores.
Do you reach out to some of those bigger employers like some of the ones you just talked about?
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:13:10)
We have. I will say, you’ll note Andrew that I made some comments about particularly Walmart over the last I think about a couple of weeks ago. I’m happy to say Walmart has responded indicating that they’re doing the very best they can to make sure that both their workers and their clientele are better protected. We have been reaching out.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:13:37)
I’m also encouraged. We have a legislative call once a week and one of the issues that came up was how railroads were handling workplace situations. I’m happy to say both Burlington Northern and UP responded with increased diligence for their workplaces and workers.
What about some of the smaller businesses, smaller employers all over Wyoming? Is there efforts being made to reach out to them as well or ways you can drive that message home I guess?
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:14:14)
Andrew, for some reason you’re breaking up, but you’re talking about smaller employers. I would say that some of our smaller employers, and maybe Josh can speak to this, have really taken this opportunity to address perhaps what might for at least a somewhat extended period even if we are able to come out of this, still may want to maintain some social distancing in our workspace.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:14:42)
There are small businesses that are really doing an extraordinary job of limiting the number of workers that are in proximity to one another, making sure they have extended in between where their workplaces are and scheduling times as well. Josh, anything you want to add to that? Thanks. Thanks, Andrew. Time for two more questions.
Billy Arnold: (01:15:09)
Governor Gordon, thanks for your answers before. This is Billy Arnold again from the News and Guide with a separate question. The other day, Senator Barrasso talked about Wyoming’s existing social distance to defend not issuing a statewide health order. But while the state has a population density about six people per square mile, more than 20% of the population lives in cities or dense towns where density is greater than 2,000 people per square mile. I’m thinking of Jackson, Cheyenne and Casper there.
Billy Arnold: (01:15:41)
I guess if you’re not open to a statewide stay-at-home order, why not give communities with high population density like Jackson and less social distance … sorry, more latitude to pursue one of those orders themselves?
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:15:58)
If I understood your question really is I think Senator Barrasso on Fox News the other day was really talking about Wyoming and Wyoming doing the right thing and how we had a few number of people per square mile. I think your point is that there are some communities that are much denser than that. That’s true I think through the Intermountain West.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:16:20)
My friend, Governor Bullock of Montana speaks a lot about Gallatin, which has many of the same issues that I think Teton is experiencing now. What we have maintained from the beginning is as counties feel it’s important, and it’s important to understand that jurisdiction there, as counties feel it’s important, they can come to the state. Dr. Harrist and I will work with them to craft an order just like the one that is in Teton at this point to recognize the unique circumstances that higher concentrations could be.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:17:01)
But what I do want to say as we look at these models, it goes back to the modeling thing. There are assumptions that are laid into models. One of them is if you put a mandatory state stay-in-place order, then there are all these things that are supposed to go with that and that affects the way the model runs. If you don’t have a specific statewide stay-in-place order, they don’t click that toggle when even, and this is what we’re trying to work with IHMS, even when the bulk of our order is everything that would be carried under that statewide stay-in-place.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:17:39)
For example, if you look at that order, you will see that it says we haven’t closed businesses down, clearly we have. Those are the kinds of variables that go into the modeling exercise that make it an informative, but not precise. Just to come back to your point, we’re happy to work with counties as they see fit to make sure that their needs are well met. But generally across the state we’re seeing a decrease in activity. We’re seeing people socially distance. Our lockdown state to the south, Colorado, the one where nobody’s supposed to be traveling, seems to be traveling in droves up to Wyoming. We’re trying to put a stop to that. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that Wyoming is taking all the precautions that it can to make sure that our population is safe and that we don’t exceed our medical resources.
Billy Arnold: (01:18:44)
Thank you, Governor.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:18:44)
Thank you. One more question.
Bob Beck: (01:18:52)
Governor, this is Bob Beck again of Wyoming Public Radio. I wanted to ask you just a little bit about those who are renting and have landlords and tenants. I know you’ve talked a little bit about asking folks to be flexible there, but have you thought about taking it another step or seen the need yet to take another step about suspending anybody from evicting folks for not paying rent or being able to pay rent at this time?
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:19:19)
Bob, thank you for that question. It’s one that’s very much on my mind. I’ve been working with WCDA, the Community Development Authority, to figure out any ways that we can address those issues. The business task force that Josh is a part of has spent a tremendous amount of time on trying to figure out how folks can work with banks to sort of extend that. We are looking at every avenue we have to be able to relieve that pressure.
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:19:51)
I have mail unhappily more often than I would like that says, “By closing the business that I worked at, you’ve now put me out on the street. Thanks, Governor. That’s really great.” I feel horribly about that. We are doing everything we can Bob to try to address that in any way that we possibly can.
Bob Beck: (01:20:17)
Is there anything you can do with an executive order or anything like that? Is that something you’ve already-
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:20:22)
Yeah, thank you. I think the question was is there anything in an executive order that I can do? I have had conversations with Attorney General Hill about what is my latitude there, what are the things that I can do? I would say stay tuned. We’ve been working on every legal avenue we can.
Bob Beck: (01:20:44)
Gov. Mark Gordon: (01:20:47)
Thank you, Bob. With that, I want to thank you all for being here. I hear from friends of mine who publish newspapers, who run TV and radio stations and I know this has not been missed on you. I know you, the reporters that we count on to make sure that our information is accurate and direct and gets out to the people, you’re feeling this too. But believe me, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the service you render to the people of Wyoming, for the diligence with which you pursue it and godspeed we all arrive on the other side. Just one more note of thanks to you for being here. Thanks.