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Wyoming health officials seek mask mandate in Laramie County

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Some county health officials in Wyoming have advanced an effort for a mandatory mask order as the number of active coronavirus cases keeps rising across the state.

The Cheyenne-Laramie County Board of Health on Tuesday unanimously passed a motion directing Dr. Stan Hartman, Laramie County health officer, to issue a mask requirement countywide, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported.

So far, Teton County is the only county with a mask mandate. There is no statewide requirement.

The board has scheduled a special meeting next Tuesday to receive an update on where the order stands.

Before the vote, Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department Executive Director Kathy Emmons reported that 5.9% of all COVID-19 tests in Laramie County came back positive over the past two weeks, above a 5% threshold that's considered key by many health officials. She said she would prefer to see that figure at around 2%.

The number of confirmed cases also grew from about 40 before October to 381 as of Tuesday, and hospitalizations at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center increased to a pandemic high of 16, she said.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Board of Health President Tim Thorson raised concerns over the numbers, saying he doesn't know "how much more worrying statistics would have to be in order to get that trigger point (for a mask mandate)."

"(Mask use) would keep the economy going, it would help keep things open and help keep kids in the schools. We would avoid shutting things down again, or having things shut down just by virtue of the fact that too many people are on quarantine," Hartman said.

It is unclear what the public response will be to the mandate.

Laramie County Commissioner Linda Heath told the board that local law enforcement had yet to enforce the requirements for visitors to wear masks in the county courthouse. But any further considerations of the policy should be made in coordination with city and town councils.

"This is something that we're going to have to take into consideration - public reaction. We're going to have to take into consideration constitutional rights," Heath said. "Not all of the communities are seeing the same thing that they're seeing here in Cheyenne."

For the mandate to take effect, both Hartman and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state health officer, must sign the order.

Emmons said it is unclear when a mask requirement would take effect and it would depend on how long it takes for Hartman to draft the order and for Harrist to review it.

For most people, the new 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.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus Coverage

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