CASPER, Wyo. — Casper City Council member Ken Bates said on Tuesday that he thinks county health officers should be elected or that they should be accountable in some additional way to the county commissioners.
“I believe that one of the two needs to take place,” Bates said during the city council meeting.
Under Wyoming law, counties, municipalities or districts which have established a health department, the local board of health can appoint health officers. In counties where health departments have not been established, county commissioners can appoint a health officer.
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Once appointed, health officers have a range of powers under the law to respond to public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. So long as a county health officer has approval from the state health officer, they have the ability to take certain measures to protect public health.
The ability to issue public health orders in Wyoming lies with the state health officer. Wyoming Statue 35-1-240 (a) (iii) says that the state health officer has the power:
“To establish, maintain and enforce isolation and quarantine, and in pursuance thereof, and for such purpose only, to exercise such physical control over property and over the persons of the people within this state as the state health officer may find necessary for the protection of the public health
County health officers are under the direction and supervision of the Wyoming Department of Health, as stated in Wyoming Statute 35-1-227.
Former Washakie County Health Officer Dr. Ed Zimmerman was terminated by the Washakie County Commissioners several days after he signed Washakie County’s public health order requiring adults to wear face coverings in public spaces on Nov. 18.
Zimmerman said he thinks this action was taken by the county commissioners because of his decision to sign the mask mandate. He expressed concern that the commissioners had made the issue political and said the reason health officers aren’t required to get permission from county commissioners in order to pass a public health order is to prevent the politicization of health matters.
“This system is in place to ensure that medical decisions for the county are not overruled by those in political office,” Zimmerman wrote on Facebook. “I did meet with the Commissioners for several hours to give them the scientific, medical, and epidemiologic reasoning why I felt that a mask mandate was absolutely necessary.”
Councilman Shawn Johnson said Tuesday that he has recently been reviewing state statute regarding health officers. He noted that the law gives them “a great deal of autonomy” and that he thinks this was written into the law “to keep politics out of medical issues.”
Bates asked for the city council or the county commissioners to consider doing something to make county health officers accountable to them, though he did not specify what he thought that should look like.
Johnson noted that the issue Bates had brought up is something that could only be changed at the state level and that “there is nothing we or the county commissioners can do about it.”
Mayor Steve Freel said that “in a perfect world” city councils and county commissions would have a say in the process of a health order being implemented.
He added that there have been health orders in place besides the countywide mask mandate throughout much of the pandemic. Freel said that the role of the city is about deciding how to enforce public health orders once those are issued.
Freel said that at least one restaurant in the community has repeatedly been in violation of COVID-19 public health restrictions. While the city has attempted to “take a very hands off approach” to enforcement of health orders, Freel said that at some point the police department may have to step in when an establishment repeatedly fails to comply.
Freel said that Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters has taken steps to communicate to businesses in the community the need to comply with public health orders.
Councilman Ray Pacheco asked that people continue to take precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19 in order to “protect not only ourselves but the people around us.”
“I don’t think it is too hard for us to mask up when we are out and about,” he said.
Health officials also recommend that people maintain social distance, practice good hygeine and stay home from school and work when they are sick in order to slow the spread of the virus.
If you would like to contact members of the Casper City Council regarding this or any other issue, here is their contact information:
Mayor Steve Freel (Ward III, Term expires 1/3/23):
- (307) 259-1276
Vice Mayor Khrystyn Lutz (Ward I, Term expires 1/3/23):
- (307) 359-3673
Councilman Charlie Powell (Ward II, Term Expires 1/5/21):
- (307) 577-6042
Councilman Shawn Johnson (Ward II, Term expires 1/3/23):
- (307) 337-5057
- (307) 277-7377
Councilman Ken Bates (Ward II, Term expires 1/5/21):
- (307) 473-1247
Councilman Steve Cathey (Ward III, Term Expires 1/5/21):
- (307) 262-8237
Councilman Bob Hopkins (Ward I, Term expires 1/5/21):
- (307) 472-1837
Councilman Mike Huber (Ward I, Term expires 1/5/21):
- (307) 266-4188
Councilman Ray Pacheco (Ward III, Term expires 1/3/23):
- (307) 258-1226
Council members can also be reached by mail at: 200 N. David Street, 82601
If you would like to contact members in your specific ward, but don’t know which ward you are in, a map is available at the City of Casper’s website.
The Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:
What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.
If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.
Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.
For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home if you’re sick
- Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
- Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.