State mask order remains in effect, Niobrara exempt


NIOBRARA COUNTY – A statewide mask order remains in effect through the Wyoming Department of Health’s new orders. Niobrara County continues to be exempt from this order with zero active COVID-19 cases since the beginning of February. 

In the rest of the state, the orders, effective Feb. 15 through Feb. 28, ease restrictions on restaurants, gyms, indoor and outdoor events, and organized sports and artistic performances. 

The easing of restrictions is possible due to improving COVID-19 metrics statewide, according to a press release from Governor Mark Gordon.

“We are making good progress against this virus,” Gordon said in the release. “Levels are returning to where they were before the dangerous spike in November and some counties have lifted restrictions. This is good news thanks to Wyoming’s people.” 

As of press time Feb. 12, 44 Wyomingites are hospitalized with the virus, according to the WDH hospital capacity dashboard. When the statewide mask order first went into effect on Dec. 9, there were 206 COVID-19 patients in Wyoming’s hospitals. The purpose of the mask order in December was to reduce the number of COVID-19 related deaths throughout Wyoming, said State Health Officer Alexia Harrist, M.D. in a Dec. 7 press release.

“This virus is sending people to hospitals who didn’t have to be there,” Harrist said in December. “It’s helping cause the deaths of people who could have had more time with their families. We are asking that Wyoming residents help us to do the right things for ourselves, our families and our communities.”

At that time, the WDH reported 280 COVID-19 related deaths. As of Feb. 15, 647 Wyomingites have died due to COVID-19 related complications, according to the WDH. Niobrara County has recorded two deaths. 

The new health orders increase indoor gatherings to 25% capacity, or 500 people, as long as there are wearing face coverings and social distancing. Outdoor gatherings can accommodate to 50% capacity and have up to 1,000 attendees. Niobrara County Public Health Nurse Manager Melanie Pearce, DNP, said Niobrara County Health Officer Joleen Falkenburg, M.D., can grant exemptions for events larger than those allowed in state health orders. 

In restaurants and theaters, groups of eight are now allowed to sit together, up from the previous six, and patrons and gyms must remain six feet apart at all times, according to the orders.

As of press time Tuesday, 373 Niobrara County residents have received their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, Pearce said, and roughly 80% of those vaccinated are in the 65 and older category. The county was allocated 400 doses this month and will continue administration at the shooting sports building at the Niobrara County Fairgrounds on Thursdays from 8:30 a.m.-12 p.m. The walk-in clinics are for those in phase 1a and 1b COVID-19 vaccine priority groups, which includes residents aged 65 and older, K-12 education staff and individuals with certain health conditions. 

Pearce said there are only 10 residents on the waitlist, and they do not fall into priority groups 1a or 1b. 

“We have vaccinated those that live outside of our county but have been encouraged to only vaccinate Niobrara County residents, because the allocations are based on population,” Pearce wrote in an email to the Herald. “So that is what we are now trying to do.”

A form to join the waiting list for a vaccine is available on the Niobrara County Public Health Facebook page, or residents can call the office at (307) 334-4032.

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