CHEYENNE– Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon held a COVID-19 Coronavirus press conference Wednesday afternoon, in which he said the state’s economy is a changed one and will continue to be different for a long time to come.
To help combat the financial impacts of COVID-19, Governor Gordon has directed all state agencies to identify opportunities to immediately reduce spending through this current fiscal year and int the next two-year budget.
Some of these reductions in spending include hiring freezes, halting general fund contracts greater than $100,000, and maintenance spending.
Governor Gordon said Wyoming’s energy and tourism sectors, the top two drivers of the state’s economy, are receiving devastating hits. Oil and gas prices have dropped to unprecedented lows, and coal continues to struggle in the changing economy.
As for over here on the Southwest side of the state, the trona mines have seen impacts of COVID-19, in addition to the issues China has presented with their increasing exports of synthetic trona ash internationally.
Governor Gordon said he is sad about the state of mineral extraction in the state, as the state will not be able to afford to support these industries to the same extent as before.
According to Governor Gordon, Wyoming could see a 20 to 30 percent drop in tourism as a result of COVID-19. He said there are several outside factors that will continue to affect Wyoming’s economy.
The Governor pushed back against the notion that Wyoming needs to be reopened, as he believes Wyoming never closed. He noted that local businesses have been finding unique ways to stay at work and he commended Wyomingites for their efforts during this difficult time.
As the state begins easing restrictions and state public health orders, which is still up in the air, Governor Gordon said the economy will not simply bounce back to normal. He said it will be “a slow recovery,” and Wyoming should prepare for a new normal for the next couple years.
Factors Being Considered in Public Health Orders
The current statewide public health orders that have been put into place to slow the spread of COVID-19 expire April 30. As the state looks at easing out of these orders or extending them, they must consider a few factors.
Governor Gordon said they are looking at ways to ease the public health orders in favor of moving forward, but while keeping public safety in mind.
Whether the state decides to remove or ease any of the orders or not, Governor Gordon said he believes everyone will need to be more conscious about social distancing from now and into the future.
As Wyoming looks at transitioning into the stabilization phase, they use data to determine where flexibility can be placed and where restrictions need to remain more strict.
The Governor and the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) are looking at accuracy of testing, data on contact tracing, hospital capacity, amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) available, rate of infection and the amount of community spread.
The state is in dire need for testing supplies, and with limits in testing, it can be difficult to predict just how many infections there are across Wyoming, Dr. Alexia Harrist, State Public Health Officer said.
While there are many different models to use in providing information regarding the spread of COVID-19. Dr. Harrist explained that they change daily and often differ from each other. Though they are helpful in aiding the WDH in preparing for the spread, they are not as useful in predicting the future.
Looking into the Near Future
Governor Gordon said Wyoming is expecting to see a surge in infections in a couple of weeks. As of now, it is too early to know when the state’s COVID-19 cases will peak, however, he said Wyoming has to start thinking of what life looks like after the pandemic.
With the state’s two biggest economic sectors taking massive hits, the governor believes it will be around one and a half years until Wyoming starts to see a return to the state’s normal economy.
While the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, will provide a lot of relief to the state’s economy, Governor Gordon said there are some caveats to the act that tell the states when and how the funding can be used.
For starters, the CARES Act does not extend beyond December 31. It also cannot be used to replace lost revenue.
However, once the CARES Act is put into place and there is a better understanding of the caveats, the state will look at what else can be done to help residents as additional stimulus.
While the state is looking at how they can help residents with rent and mortgage payments amid the outbreak, without putting the burden on landlords, the governor said there are more long term issues to look at as well.
The recommendation for social distancing will continue to persist even after the peak of infections, which means the state will have to look at what school will look like in the 2020-2021 school year, as well as what procedures such as judicial trials will look like.
Governor Gordon also noted they will have to figure out how to put professionals such as barbers and cosmetologists back to work while ensuring their safety.
Though Governor Gordon acknowledges the future of Wyoming will present many challenges to the residents, he said Wyomingites are a unique and strong people who will work together to make a better Wyoming.
“People of Wyoming, you have done a phenomenal job,” Governor Gordon said. “Continue to do a phenomenal job.”
Below is the full video for Governor Gordon’s COVID-19 Coronavirus press conference.