State won’t relax rules for local restaurants

Posted 6/25/20

Park County’s push to allow restaurants and bars to seat more people was at least temporarily shelved on Tuesday, as the state health officer declined to relax the rules amid a continuing …

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State won’t relax rules for local restaurants


Park County’s push to allow restaurants and bars to seat more people was at least temporarily shelved on Tuesday, as the state health officer declined to relax the rules amid a continuing increase in local cases of COVID-19.

Between Monday and Tuesday, six more residents tested positive for the new coronavirus, said Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin. That means the county now has 13 active confirmed cases of the respiratory disease plus one probable case — the highest number since the pandemic reached the area in March.

“Due to the increased cases in Park County lately (with 1 related to a restaurant/bar), the State Health Officer has decided that now is not [the] time to approve the Park County variance requesting increased seating in restaurants and bars,” Billin wrote in a Tuesday night Facebook post.

Earlier on Tuesday, a Powell woman who works at a bar and with people with disabilities tested positive for COVID-19; so did a Powell man who works in construction and another person who was tested in Cody, Billin said.

That followed three cases that were detected on Monday, all tied to a particular oil field company, he said. The spouses of two company workers — both women from Cody — tested positive on Monday, as did one of their children, Billin said; their husbands had tested positive back on June 12. They’re among nine confirmed cases and one probable case in recent weeks that involve the company’s workers and their family members, according to information from public health officials.

“We hope this cluster is contained,” Billin said Tuesday night. “The epidemiologists from the Wyoming Department of Health are completing the necessary contact tracing.”

Data indicates that none of the people are currently hospitalized; additionally, one local resident was officially declared to have recovered from the disease recently.

The increase in cases came just as Park County officials were seeking to relax the rules on local restaurants and bars. At the encouragement of Park County commissioners, Billin had requested a variance that would have allowed establishments to return their tables and chairs to normal spacing if they were serving 50 or fewer people; commissioners said they’d heard from business owners that the current requirement to space tables at least 6 feet apart was one of the rules causing the most economic harm, because it was limiting occupancy. The variance would also have exempted kitchen workers from the requirement to wear masks — assuming they had no contact with patrons and had been screened for COVID-19.

State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said in a Friday email to Billin that the request was “well thought out and a reasonable next step for restaurants.” In fact, when she issues new public health orders on July 1, they “will likely contain relaxed requirements for restaurants similar to what you have proposed, if the data indicates that step is appropriate,” Harrist said.

However, with Park County reporting several new cases last week, she held off on the request before deciding to deny it on Tuesday.

“She will be willing to revisit [the variance] at a later time according to the situation,” said Kim Deti, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health.

In her Friday email, Harrist noted that a recent outbreak of more than 90 cases in Uinta County appeared to have stemmed from an event at a bar, where patrons didn’t practice social distancing.

One of the people who tested positive for COVID-19 last week was a staffer at a Cody child care facility, which led to its temporary closure. However, the facility was allowed to reopen on Tuesday after a deep cleaning — and after all of the other staffers tested negative for the disease, Billin said. He added that the Cody woman’s duties at the facility “did not involve close contact with children or other staff members.”

Most of the 52 children at the facility have also been tested and have shown no signs of the virus.

“Others are awaiting results,” he said.