CHEYENNE– During Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon’s COVID-19 Coronavirus press conference today, Wyoming’s workers were at the forefront of the discussion.
Robin Cooley, Director of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, said that the number of unemployment claims have increased tri-fold since the pandemic hit Wyoming, and some days have increased eight-fold.
She added that the majority of the claims are coming from people who have never filed a claim before, and that makes the claims more difficult to manage as they need more assistance because they don’t know the process.
To deal with the influx of calls, the department has hired more temporary staff and are looking into implementing more phone lines. They are also looking at contracting a call center to help assist.
However, they are also starting a new call process in which people with last names that start with A-M will call on Monday, Wednesday, and before noon on Friday. People with last names that start with N-Z will call on Tuesday, Thursday, and after noon on Friday.
They also ask that people file online if they can.
CARES Act and Other Assistance Programs
On March 27, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and Governor Gordon signed up for the Act on March 28, allowing Wyoming to access the program as soon as it becomes available.
The two main programs under the CARES Act the Wyoming Department of Workforce is focusing on, according to Cooley, are the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program.
The PUA program allows gig workers, contract workers, and self-employed workers to access unemployment benefits if they are out of work due to COVID-19.
The FPUC program gives workers who are receiving unemployment compensation due to COVID-19 an additional $600 per week through July 31, 2020.
Another program under the CARES Act gives an additional 13 weeks of regular unemployment benefits.
Though Cooley said they do not know when these federal assistance programs will be available, they will update the Department of Workforce’s Facebook page with new information when they receive it.
Cooley said they are hoping to have these programs implemented in Wyoming by the last week of April, but that is not a guarantee.
Wyoming Business Council Focuses on Recovery
Josh Dorrell, Wyoming Business Council CEO, said that while the health of Wyomingites comes first, the health of Wyoming’s business is also very important.
In addition to individuals and businesses receiving support from the CARES Act, which is an emergent program according to Dorrell, Wyoming also needs assistance for recovery in both the short, mid, and long terms.
Dorrell encourages Wyoming businesses to reach out for help from the local Wyoming Business Council regional directors to see how the council can assist in current times and with recovery.
He said there are plans to provide guidance that will be rolled out by stage of the virus, rather than on a calendar schedule. Part of those plans is to have state agencies work with the local chambers of commerce to ensure there is alignment.
Dorrell also said the Wyoming Business Council is still continuing recruitment efforts to bring businesses to Wyoming. He said that with Wyoming’s sparse populations, the state may be more attractive now than ever.
Governor and Bishop Steven Discourage Public Church Services
With Easter this weekend, Governor Gordon warned against churches hosting in-person Easter Sunday services.
“We want to make sure that we avoid gatherings, and I know this Easter weekend, how difficult that is,” Governor Gordon said.
The Governor read a letter from Bishop Steven Biegler, Diocese of Cheyenne, in which Bishop Steven explained how the Catholic Church will be dealing with Easter services.
“An essential value behind our decisions is solidarity. We are obligated to do all that we can to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19, especially to elderly and people who have underlying health conditions. Solidarity requires us to act to prevent any person from being infected,” Bishop Steven wrote in the letter.
“At this time, pubic gatherings endanger those in attendance, who in turn could infect others. We need to consider the common good of all people, not just our fellow Christians. We must be co-responsible citizens. And while ceasing public religious services is a drastic measure, it will mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. This is an essential way of loving our neighbor,” Bishop Steven wrote.
Governor Gordon commended the churches who have implemented online services so people can continue to attend while staying safe.
Governor Gordon said he signed a letter requesting a Disaster Declaration in the state of Wyoming and the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes today.
He said this will provide the opportunity for assistance from the US Army Corps of Engineers for construction of temporary medical facilities if needed.
In addition, it will also provide opportunities for federal resources and services for individuals including disaster unemployment assistance, legal services, and case management.
CDC Recommends Face Masks
Dr. Alexia Harrist, State Public Health Officer, said the CDC is recommending people use face masks while in public spaces. Though Wyoming is not issuing a formal recommendation for that, she said Wyomingites should feel encouraged to do so.
Dr. Harrist said cloth masks can be purchased or made at home. However, surgical masks and N95 masks should be left for the use of medical professionals and emergency responders.
She noted, however, that cloth masks should not be used as a replacement for social distancing. The masks are an added preventative measure.
Harrist also clarified that though the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory in Cheyenne is only testing priority sample collections, healthcare providers can still request for their patients to be tested. Those tests will just need to be sent to outside labs.
In addition to testing clarifications, Harrist also answered a question about whether coroners and pathologists in the state are testing people to see if they had contracted the virus before death. Harrist said some have done tests, but all tests have come back negative.
Out of State Visitors are Asked to Stay Home
Governor Gordon said that he is asking for visitors of the state to delay their visits until further notice. He said the state has closed their overnight campgrounds and that National Parks in Wyoming are also closed during this time.
The state is implementing a 14-day self-quarantine for any out of state visitors who are not traveling into the state for work.
According to Governor Gordon, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has emailed the 43,000 non-resident hunting and fishing license holders, advising them of the current state restrictions on travel to the state that require the 14-day quarantine.
Governor Gordon added that this morning, he asked the Game and Fish Commission to consider suspending the sale of short term fishing licenses.
In the email the Game and Fish Department sent out, they said anyone who cannot abide by these restrictions and requirements upon entering the state, that they should stay home. The Governor added that the same message is being shared at points of entry boat inspection stations.
“We’re particularly concerned about our neighbors in a lockdown state like Colorado coming up to Wyoming, or from Utah,” Governor Gordon said.
He said out of state visitors should resist coming to Wyoming for antler collection during this Spring season.
According to Governor Gordon, Game and Fish is monitoring the sales of non-resident daily licenses, which he said is a good indicator for non-resident visitation frequency. He said those sales are currently down 21 percent.
He added that he is asking Wyomingites to recreate close to home and practice social distancing when choosing to go outdoors.
Governor Gordon’s full press conference can be found below.