As Wyoming continues to try and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) through the public health orders issued by Governor Mark Gordon, the Board of Carbon County Commissioners (BOCCC) is concerned about possible blind spots in those orders. During the April 7 meeting of the BOCCC, Kandiz Fritz, Road and Bridge Interim Manager, informed the commissioners that contractors are beginning to arrive in Hanna and Medicine Bow for work on slated wind energy projects.
“I’m reaching out to you guys—and I just talked to Ron Brown (interim emergency management coordinator)—and maybe we could draft a letter asking that the companies check all of their employees and they do a screening, temperature wise,” said Fritz. “Just so they’re all on board with everything and we are in compliance with the governor, should anybody get sick in there. That’s just my question for you guys. There’s quite a bit of traffic out there and Medicine Bow is going to get hit pretty hard.”
When the BOCCC was provided a COVID-19 update by Public Health Nurse Manager Amanda Brown, Chairman John Johnson brought up the concern over increased population in the Medicine Bow area.
“We’re concerned that there’s a hole in the protection and I know that it doesn’t fit under the order that they don’t comply, but there’s an overrun of employees right now coming in to do … wind energy projects, powerlines, stuff like that,” said Johnson. “Do you have concerns with that many people coming into a small town of Medicine Bow and Hanna, that we’re opening up the doors to more potential positive tests of coronavirus?”
In response, A. Brown stated that she had talked with Carbon County Health Officer M. Wayne Couch and that they both were concerned, but had been waiting on guidance from the State of Wyoming.
“I’ve asked them to specifically address this because it’s not a problem unique to Carbon County,” said A. Brown. “What our county health officer has suggested is, if there’s somebody new coming into our community, that we ask them to self-quarantine or isolate themselves for 14 days prior to being out in the community. If they cannot do that, that they protect themselves by wearing a mask.”
She added that, while there had been no official statement from the State of Wyoming, it shouldn’t be something that the BOCCC should wait around for.
“We should talk to these companies, try to get a plan. A lot of these big companies have set procedures and protocols already because they’re coming from places that have more cases and they already have set plans. So, I’d like to just see those plans,” said A. Brown.
Johnson asked A. Brown if he felt it was possible for her and two commissioners to physically visit the work sites to go over their plans and see the impact that places like Medicine Bow and Hanna were facing. The BOCCC chairman added that A. Brown could get into contact with Rocky Mountain Power, which oversees a number of projects, and Power Company of Wyoming.
“Is there anyway that Amanda Brown could meet with your folks and make sure that your safety protocols meet her standards?” Johnson asked Kara Choquette, communications director for Power Company of Wyoming.
Choquette, who was attending via teleconference, stated that was possible. Commissioner Travis Moore brought up that, while these companies may have policies and protocols in place, he was concerned whether they were being followed on the work site.
“I trust the integrity of these companies, they have done wonderfully for the people of Carbon County thus far, but it’s in that day-to-day communication and those safety briefings that we really need to nail this down,” said Moore.
“You’re right and we are definitely happy to share that information with you,” replied Choquette.
R. Brown informed the commissioners that he would get together with A. Brown and get a plan in place. He stated that, historically, many of the work sites have their own emergency medical technicians that could be trained on performing screenings. Johnson, referencing the commissioner’s statutory obligation to the health and safety of a county’s citizens, asked Carbon County Attorney Ashley Mayfield-Davis what authority the BOCCC had in delaying work being done at project locations.
“In my opinion, your authority lies in making requests. The state health officer, in conjunction with the county officer, can make orders,” said Mayfield-Davis. “So, you can direct or request that they hold off on their projects but you don’t, in my opinion, have authority to enforce anything on that.”
As discussion continued, the majority of the commissioners seemed to agree that there was frustration in communication from the federal level down to the county level. Moore stated that it would benefit government entities on the local level to have information on what events would trigger another executive order so that they could be prepared.
“The communication between all these public entities needs to start happening. I know we’re building the airplane as we’re flying it, we’ve never seen anything like this before, but some of those points to communicate out to the counties to have some response in place … for this issue … would be critical for us moving forward,” Moore said.
“I guess, right now, with what we have going on in this county we can do the best we can do on our terms because it is in our county and we can move forward with that,” said Commissioner Sue Jones. “I think we have contractors on both ends that are willing to work with us and I’m sure they have protocol in place themselves but we need to know and be in contact with them as far as what they’re doing.”
The next meeting of the Board of Carbon County Commissioners will be at 9 a.m. on April 21 at the Carbon County Courthouse in Rawlins.
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