Bars and restaurants face 10 p.m. curfew

Wyoming bars and restaurants will be required to close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and limit groups to six people starting Wednesday, according to public health orders announced by Gov. Mark Gordon’s office Monday.

The guidelines, in effect through Jan. 8, allow larger groups to sit together in restaurants and other venues only if all members are from the same household.

The 10 p.m. curfew does not apply to takeout or delivery services.

James Large, the kitchen manager at The Fort Saloon N’ Eatery, said his business over the last two weeks is already suffering compared to earlier in the fall.

“Sales this time last year were averaging around $4,200 a day,” Large said. “Now, we’re between $1,200 and $1,400.”

The Fort staff has had three positive COVID-19 test results since the start of the pandemic, and two kitchen employees have already been let go due to declining business.

However, Large said that after reopening its doors in late May, the bar and restaurant had been doing steady business until recently.

“We are running on a skeleton crew,” he said. “Hopefully this will be over and we can get back to normal.”

Previous public health guidelines set by the governor’s office allowed groups of up to eight people to be seated together.

Large said that although The Fort rarely sees groups of more than four or six, it served a party of 10 over the weekend.

“What’s important is that this still allows people to go out,” said Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association. “We want to do anything we can to keep businesses from having to close again.”

Moser said the association is already collaborating with the governor’s office and the Wyoming Department of Health to form a plan to support local businesses who expect to be negatively affected by these new rules.

That could include distributing federal COVID-19 relief funds to business owners before the end of the year to keep their staffs employed.

“A lot of states have shut down without thinking about those small businesses,” Moser said. “I understand the mask mandate, and our priority is public safety while still keeping the economy moving. The last thing I want is for employees to find they’re short a job or with reduced hours.”

The businesses most impacted by a 10 p.m. curfew, Moser said, will be nightclubs and dance halls that thrive on late-night attendance.

Establishments like these, which can’t offer takeout or delivery options, may find themselves more reliant on state funding to keep their staffs employed while doors are closed.

“Hopefully this is short, not a long-term thing,” Moser said. “But we need to get COVID under control.”

The guidelines come as all 23 Wyoming counties are classified in the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s highest-risk category.

Although a majority of counties, including Natrona, have previously issued their own mask mandates and other regulations, this order is the state’s widest set of restrictions since the initial health orders were rolled back.

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