CHEYENNE, Wyo. – As hundreds cheered, former Rep. Scott Clem took direct aim at Wyoming governor Mark Gordon and Wyoming’s health officials during a rally on Monday in front of the State Capitol building in Cheyenne.
“No one seems to know if it’s the governor calling the shots or the state health officer,” he said at one point. “Where’s the leadership?”
Clem also called for the resignation of Wyoming state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist during the rally, which he organized to protest state health orders intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
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Calling the governor a “tyrant” multiple times, he called for “civil disobedience” against the health orders.
“I’m asking you to be responsible, practice your civil rights, look out for your fellow man,” said Clem, who is a preacher at a Baptist church in Gillette.
“Our country is not ruled by good intentions, it’s not ruled by science. It’s not ruled by any of those things. Our country is ruled by the Constitution,” he said at the rally.
Other speakers echoed his statements, including Natrona County representative Chuck Gray, who lamented that the state health officer is an unelected official.
“We are way past the moment when the legislature should’ve stepped up and gotten control over this,” Gray said.
Wyoming’s COVID-19 numbers stayed low during most of the year, until cases started to surge in the fall.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Wyoming surged from late September through the end of November, reaching a peak of 247 COVID-19 patients in Wyoming hospitals on Nov. 30. Hospitals in the state never saw more than 30 COVID-19 patients until Oct. 2.
Governor Mark Gordon resisted issuing a statewide mask mandate until Dec. 9, after a number of counties had issued their own mandates.
While November saw over 17,000 new confirmed cases, Wyoming saw decline in the number of confirmed cases reported during December when 6,846 new confirmed cases were reported.
Hospitalizations also started to trend downward at the start of Dec. As of Jan. 3, hospitalizations were down to 105 from the peak of 247 patients seen on Nov. 30. Some 438 people have died from COVID-19 complications in the state since the start of the pandemic, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
Natrona County Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell said in mid-December that declines in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations was due to people wearing masks both in Natrona and statewide.
With hospitalizations trending down, Wyoming will relax some of the public health restrictions starting Jan. 9. The updated public health orders will allow bars and restaurants to again serve customers after 10 pm. The limit on group fitness classes will go back up to 25 participants. Ten participants are allowed under the current public health orders.
During Monday’s rally, speakers called for the elimination of all health orders due to COVID-19. At one point, Clem removed a paper mask from his pocket, doused it with hand sanitizer and threw it on the concrete as it burned. Others from the crowd added masks until a Wyoming Highway Patrol officer extinguished the fire.
After the nearly two-hour rally, protesters marched to the east side of the Capitol where they said Gov. Gordon’s office is placed.
They changed slogans, “stop the tyranny,” “one-term governor,” and “we will not comply.”
Oil City News reporter Brendan LaChance contributed to this report.
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.