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’s stressed the importance of mask-wearing, he’s also argued that it’s a “personal responsibility.”
“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 on 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 Trump’s dismissive attitude toward masks — and others parroting Gordon’s calls 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 face mask rules, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who had previously called mask rules “feel good” measures, put a limited mandate into effect earlier this month.
Gallery: How the governors of Iowa, Utah, and North Dakota pivoted and issued public health orders to contain recent coronavirus surges (Business Insider)
Adopting mask mandates, some GOP governors give up the gospel of personal responsibility
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 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 earlier 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 20 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 did respond 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 on Nov. 19.
But Gordon again stopped short of issuing a mask mandate.