Earlier this month, with coronavirus cases rising dramatically across Wyoming, a coalition of medical experts and nearly every county health officer in the state wrote to Republican Gov. Mark Gordon with an urgent demand: to issue a statewide mask mandate.
Gordon declined. While he has stressed the importance of wearing masks, he has also argued that it’s an individual choice to do so.
“It is incredibly important that we take personal responsibility for our actions and understand how those actions can implicate others,” Gordon said last month.
Now Gordon, 63, has tested positive for the virus, his office announced Wednesday. “He only has minor symptoms at this time and plans to continue working on behalf of Wyoming remotely,” Gordon’s office said in a news release.
Throughout the pandemic, a number of Republican governors have resisted mandating face coverings, with some questioning their effect – an echo of President Donald Trump’s dismissive attitude toward masks – and others, like Gordon, calling for personal responsibility. But in recent weeks, with the pandemic dramatically worsening and evidence mounting that mask mandates can reduce transmission, several have reversed course.
GOP-led states including Utah, West Virginia and North Dakota all recently tightened mask rules, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican who had previously called such rules “feel-good” measures, put a limited mandate into effect earlier this month.
Gordon, though, has held firm against any statewide mask rules even as Wyoming, like other states in the West and Midwest, has seen coronavirus cases increase significantly this fall. The state has now topped 30,000 cases and recorded at least 215 deaths, according to The Washington Post’s coronavirus tracker.
While some counties in Wyoming have issued local mask requirements, health experts say they’re often ignored – and enacting new rules on the county level hasn’t been easy.
When commissioners in Natrona County, which includes Casper, the state’s second-largest city, invited health officials to discuss a possible mask mandate this month, the meeting had to be adjourned early because of incessant heckling. Anti-mask protesters have repeatedly gathered at the state Capitol in Cheyenne as well.
On Nov. 12, Wyoming public health experts urged Gordon to reconsider a statewide mask rule. A letter signed by 21 county health officers and the heads of the state’s medical society and hospital association noted that recommendations alone weren’t driving enough people to mask up.
“Education and encouragement alone have not achieved desired outcomes. Our health care resources are becoming critically strained with hospitalizations and deaths increasing,” the letter said.
Last week, Gordon responded to the record case numbers by issuing new restrictions, including reducing the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings. And he urged residents to wear masks.
“The Governor reminded residents to practice the three Ws – wash your hands, watch your distance and wear a face covering,” his office said Nov. 19.
But Gordon again stopped short of issuing a mask mandate.