BY D. REED ECKHARDT
Enough with the handwringing.
Enough with the begging.
Enough with the wishful thinking that if Laramie County residents are told — over and over — that they need to wear masks to protect each other, they finally will listen and do the right thing.
It ain’t gonna happen.
Listen to Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr, via Twitter, on Tuesday night:
“Tough news in Cheyenne with employees from 5 restaurants linked to COVID. I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t
|This map shows the nation’s COVID hotspots, including Laramie County.|
Or Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department Executive Director Kathy Emmons:
“We’re really concerned about the potential spread from the events this (past) weekend because it doesn’t appear a lot of people are wearing masks. If people weren’t practicing social distancing … that’s going to lead to increased numbers in the county.”
Really? Where have these alleged leaders been?
I just spent a week at home in the Capital City to see my wife and canine family, traveling from New Mexico in a rental car protective bubble. And all one has to do is spend a few hours around Cheyenne to see that no one — that’s NO ONE, Ms. Orr and Ms. Emmons — is following the begging of state and local officials.
I made one trip out for an evening to see a friend at a local brewery and regretted every moment of it. It was packed with people without masks, and no one was six feet apart. I set myself apart from the crowd in the open air but never was comfortable and never felt safe.
When one unmasked customer squeezed too close and I objected, he simply told me to put on my mask. I explained that I gladly would do so. But I added that would do nothing to protect me, only him. When I pointed out that really, for me to feel safe, he needed to put on a mask, he harrumphed and acted like I was an idiot.
Similarly, I stopped in at another brewery that I had been waiting to see open since before I had to leave for New Mexico to take care of my mother last December. It was packed, and no one was wearing a mask. I never did go inside to celebrate its opening with the owners.
I have no doubt this is the no-need-for-a mask attitude of the vast majority of Cheyenne residents who are out packing restaurants, breweries, groceries, retail stores and events like last weekend’s downtown sidewalk affair. And if officials like Orr and Emmons haven’t seen this for themselves, it is only because they have their heads buried deep in the High Plains dirt.
To be frank, if I hadn’t have had to leave my family behind, I would have celebrated exiting Wyoming last week. I returned to New Mexico and the safety of state that recently delayed its reopening for two weeks (https://bit.ly/2VeTbxW) because of a rise in numbers. This governor relies on data and her executive power to keep residents safe. And, yes, residents have bought into the idea that respect for your neighbors requires the “inconvenience” of mask wearing, thanks to strong state and local leadership.
But it’s not even close to that in Wyoming. The Cowboy mentality is rampant there, and it is going to cost dozens of lives. The numbers of cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in the southeast corner of the state, and that does not bode well. Look at the map on this post and see that Laramie County — in bright red — is one of the nation’s hot spots. The potential for an outbreak there is very real.
Part of the reason for people not taking things seriously is that city, county and state leaders have not taken mask-wearing and social distancing seriously either, and they have made no move to exercise their legal authority to make the point. Emmons admits as much in Wednesday’s local newspaper when she says her department hasn’t even considered taking action against businesses ignoring protocols.
If she isn’t taking a potential outbreak seriously, why should residents? And it’s not as if Emmons doesn’t know what has been going on. Rather, she has been hoping — praying? — that residents are going finally act in theirs, and other’s, best interests. Fat chance.
Orr, too, admits in her tweet that she has not been wearing a mask as much as she should be. Again, without leadership — and firm talking — no one is going to follow.
For people like my wife, who lives in Cheyenne and has been taking protocols seriously, these are scary times. It is not safe in the Capitol City for those who must not be exposed to COVID-19, and their leaders are doing nothing to make things any safer. Instead, they have stepped aside and let the Wild West rule. And now they are surprised the numbers are rising?
Orr and the City Council must demand that the county health department take action if Emmons won’t do her job. A mandatory mask rule — with enforcement teeth — is the only way to prevent the local outbreak from growing. If a cities like Miami can require masking in public spaces to re-flatten COVID spikes, there is no reason that Cheyenne and Laramie County should not be exercising the same logic.
Additionally, it is time for local media to stop pandering to the readers and listeners and speak the truth: If you don’t wear a mask, you are endangering your lives and the lives of others. Step up and show the caring for your neighbors that Wyoming residents say they treasure.
Yes, I know these actions are not politically correct among the “I want to exercise my rights” crowd. But sometimes other’s rights to be safe and secure override the desires of some to do what they want, when they want. This is a local crisis, and it must be dealt with locally.
If Orr and Emmons continue to stand on the sidelines and wring their hands and beg, they will have no one to blame but themselves when hospitals fill up and many get sick and some and some die.
D. Reed Eckhardt is the former executive editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.