CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Flanked by bodyguards wearing virus-protection face masks, Gov. Mark Gordon told about 100 raucous protesters Monday he didn't know when Wyoming would get back to normal but he's talking with state officials about how to reopen businesses.
On the one-month mark after his orders to close schools and a variety of businesses to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Gordon came out of the Capitol to engage with the group carrying the U.S. and the Gadsden "Don't Treat on Me" flags and signs reading "Don't Flatten the Economy" and "Defend Liberty."
Gordon began by reading a prayer but didn't quiet the group, who demanded to know what businesses and jobs he thought were essential.
"They're all essential!" somebody else shouted before Gordon could answer.
Wyoming's measures set to run through at least April 30 aren't as strict as those in neighboring states that have issued statewide stay-at-home orders, Gordon pointed out.
"I've relied on the great people of Wyoming, who I knew would do the right thing," he said.
The protest was Wyoming's biggest of its kind to date though smaller than some in other state capitals over the weekend that drew thousands. Few of the protesters in Cheyenne maintained the recommended 6-foot (2-meter) spacing distance and only a couple wore masks.
Protesters said they were turning out in support of local businesses.
"I'm not suggesting anybody is stupid but a second Great Depression is going to kill more people than this virus will," said one protester, Lisa Glauner.
State and local officials don't have the authority to shut down businesses, said protester Mike Tuttle, owner of T-Joe's Steakhouse and Saloon on the outskirts of Cheyenne.
The deaths of two people from the coronavirus in Wyoming to date is tragic but "what is two people in a state that has almost 600,000 people?" asked Tuttle.
He planned to reopen May 1 with or without permission, Tuttle said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Over 400 people had tested positive for or were suspected of having the coronavirus in Wyoming as of Monday. Cases were confirmed in 21 of the state's 23 counties.
Later Monday, Gordon took part in a public and news media conference call in which the superintendents of Yellowstone and Grand Teton talked about how the parks might begin to reopen in the weeks and months ahead. The parks have been closed since March 24.
Yellowstone will look to local health officials for guidance and at first will probably bring back about a third of its seasonal workforce of 450, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said.
The workers won't live in dormitories and other group housing but may be put in regular park employee housing and even visitor accommodations, Sholly said.
"It's critical how we do this because we don't want to see a resurgence," Gordon said on the call.