Wyoming now has a statewide mask order. What will it mean for combating the virus here?

It took three weeks of debates, rewritten drafts and public meetings before Teton County Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell saw a face mask order signed and delivered to his community. It was the middle of summer and tourism was booming.

While travel statewide had been devastated by the pandemic, Teton County was as busy as ever with myriad tourists hoping for a pandemic-friendly outdoor vacation. Visitation to Yellowstone National Park actually grew 2% from July 2019 to July 2020.

“Part of the reason I think we had a mandate in the first place here is we’re such a big tourist town,” Riddell said. “There was fear that that meant a lot of virus being introduced into our community.”

The county’s mask order covered private businesses, their employees and customers, as well as other public areas like health facilities and rideshare services. It went into effect July 21.

Now, close to five months later, the entire state has a face mask order. A flurry of Wyoming counties passed local orders ahead of Thanksgiving, and Gov. Mark Gordon announced a statewide requirement Monday.

Masks have been proven effective to slow the spread of COVID-19, but their use has become a political wedge issue.

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