SHERIDAN — While Sheridan County posted a copy of a public health order requiring masks in public spaces, the order has not yet been signed by Wyoming State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist.
For a local public health order to go into effect, the county health officer must first request approval from Harrist, who has approved orders in Teton, Laramie and Albany counties. Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill must also review the document.
Sheridan County is one of eight with a pending county mask order this week.
According to Jennifer Graves, COVID-19 public information officer for Sheridan County, the order has not been approved by the state.
The order has been signed by Sheridan County Public Health Officer Dr. Ian Hunter. If the state OKs the order, it would require all persons within Sheridan County wear a face covering in certain public settings — such as:
• when inside or in line to enter any retail or commercial business or government facility open to the public.
• when obtaining services at or visiting health care facilities, including but not limited to hospitals, clinics, walk-in health facilities, dentists, pharmacies, blood banks, other health care facilities, behavioral health providers, facilities providing veterinary and similar health care services for animals.
• when waiting for or riding public transportation or paratransit, or while they are riding in a taxi, private car service, shuttle, tour or ride-sharing vehicle. The driver shall also wear a face covering when passengers are in the vehicle.
In addition, the order would require businesses and government facilities open to the general public to post notices stating that face coverings are required and that all all employees, owners and volunteers of such places will wear masks when interacting with the public or when working in an area visited by the public — such as reception areas, grocery store aisles and other areas.
Minors will not be required to wear face coverings, though those over the age of 3 will be encouraged to wear one. Additional exemptions are also listed.
Sheridan County Public Health Officer Dr. Ian Hunter nor Sheridan County Prosecuting Attorney Dianna Bennett responded to questions from The Press by press time Tuesday.
During a city council meeting Nov. 16, Sheridan Police Department Lt. Tom Ringley said the police department would fully enforce the order if it is signed by Harrist, with an emphasis on “compliance and cooperation.”
“Our goal is not to cite people or arrest our way out of this problem,” Ringley said. “Our goal is to work with the public so that we can get compliance and cooperation and fix this problem together.”
Ringley said violation of the order would not be an arrestable offense but would merit a court summons.
“We’re not seeking arrest warrants— we’re seeking court summonses, which is akin to a citation,” Ringley said.
Ringley said under the new order, the person or business who is noncompliant will be the one held liable. Businesses will not be held liable as long as they encourage customers to wear masks.
“If a business owner has a person walk in who doesn’t feel the need to comply with the order, all they need to do is either ask them to leave or call us, and we’ll be more than happy to ask them to leave,” Ringley said. “If they don’t leave, that becomes a trespass issue.”
In a meeting with legislators Monday evening, Sheridan County School District 2 Board Trustee Ann Perkins, who works as the Sheridan County Prevention manager, asked legislators — all of whom were present from the Sheridan delegation besides Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan — how they will support the county mask order and also encourage constituents to adhere to the order.
Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, and Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, both admitted to currently being in quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19, but mentioned they wear masks around town and in stores.
Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, said he certainly plans on following the order but believes the larger issue facing schools is funding, not COVID.
Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, said although he’s not in Sheridan County, Johnson County might also have something similar happening soon, and he’d be supportive of whatever happens. As a county attorney for Johnson County, Crago said he often thinks of worst-case scenarios and fears an order, if masks don’t quell the spread, may aid in losing credibility for masks. He said Johnson County’s health officer emphasized the distancing rule as more significant an issue than masks.
Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Parkman, said his constituents, himself included, “think it is a personal responsibility issue and we don’t like the fact of being told to wear them all the time.”
“I wear mine personally when I go out to Walmart and to the hockey rink and different things like that, but, you know, since the schools have already mandated masks and it’s been working and we’ve been able to keep our kids in school, to me that’s all I can ask for,” Biteman said.
Biteman said he personally likes South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s approach of emphasizing personal responsibility to do the right thing.
Harrist approved the first county health order in Teton County July 20 after Teton County commissioners unanimously voted to approve a resolution supporting mask wearing and Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell’s request for a countywide mask order, according to Jackson Hole Daily’s coverage July 21.
Harrist approved Laramie County’s order, which went into effect Nov. 2, Cowboy State Daily reported, although the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reported Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove said she would not enforce the order.
Natrona County’s order requiring face coverings in Natrona County-owned buildings went into effect Nov. 10 and does not yet apply to the entire county, according to the Casper Star-Tribune reporting Nov. 11.
For a full copy of Sheridan County’s proposed health order, see the Sheridan County website.