County extends extra restrictions on local gatherings, day cares


In the fight against COVID-19, Park County health officials are continuing to impose restrictions on local residents that go beyond those put in place by Gov. Mark Gordon. Those rules — now extended through April 17 — include generally prohibiting more than 10 people from being in the same place and closing down nearly all childcare services.

The county’s health officer, Dr. Aaron Billin, has described the local approach as proactive and said he feels it is working.

“Thank you all for the sacrifices you are making to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Park County,” Billin said Thursday as the county’s restrictions were extended.

He’s also been encouraged that Park County has had only one confirmed case of the new coronavirus. However, with testing remaining limited, “we know the true number of cases is higher,” Billin said Saturday. “The true situation can only be worse, not better.”

He and other health officials are also warning that the pandemic is not expected to peak in Wyoming for several more weeks — likely in early May.

In the meantime, Billin has urged residents to continue to practice social distancing and follow the health orders.

On Friday, Gov. Gordon extended the state’s restrictions through April 30. Melissa Higley, a public information officer for Park County, said Friday that “it is not yet known” whether the county will seek to extend its order through the end of the month as well.

Park County’s order goes further than the state’s order in two areas.

For instance, among other exceptions, the State of Wyoming is allowing gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes, at livestock auctions and in businesses where people are generally 6 feet apart.

That is not the case in Park County. Here, the only places allowed to have more than 10 people are: stores selling essential items (like grocery stores), pharmacies, hospitals, medical clinics, government facilities and Yellowstone Regional Airport. That cap includes both employees and customers, so unless they’re exempted, a business “may only have 10 people at one location at a time,” Billin has said.

The doctor has also placed additional restrictions on local day cares.

Under both the county and state orders, childcare facilities can only continue to operate if they’re caring for the children of “essential personnel.”

The state says that 15 categories of workers are essential. They include healthcare providers, educators, criminal justice workers, public health employees, active military members, foster families, utility and public works employees, supply chain workers (including truck drivers), grocery store employees, firefighters and other first responders.

In Park County, however, day cares can only stay open if they’re serving the children of healthcare workers, first responders and workers with the Wyoming Department of Family Services, Billin said.

So, although employees at grocery stores, government facilities and businesses selling essential items are continuing to work, “they are not eligible to utilize day care because they are not included in the list of essential personnel,” Billin said in a message first sent to the Cody Enterprise.

As for why he imposed the tight restrictions on day cares, Billin has said that “the research shows that even when conducted to the highest standards ... group child care can contribute to the spread of this virus.”

Like adults, children can carry and transmit COVID-19 without ever showing any symptoms of the disease — and Billin says there’s evidence that the virus can remain in children’s stool for weeks.

State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist agreed to extend Park County’s health order for an additional two weeks on Thursday, after the Wyoming Attorney General signed off on the document.

When she originally approved the additional Park County restrictions on March 19, Harrist said the order was “necessary to protect the public health due to Park County being a tourist destination with multiple attractions, a ski area and the eastern portion of Yellowstone National Park that attracts visitors from around the world.”