Converse, Natrona Counties to Enforce Mask Mandate on Case-by-Case Basis
Natrona and Converse counties' law enforcement officials said Friday they will choose carefully how they will enforce the new statewide face covering requirement to slow the spread of COVID-19.
"We looked at it like we do every case that comes up for prosecution and determine if we can meet the elements, and we have to do it on a case-by-case basis," Natrona County Attorney Dan Itzen said.
Converse County is taking a similar approach.
"Peace Officers will respond to disputes or disturbances related to public health orders and will take appropriate enforcement action based upon the unique circumstances of each incident," according to a joint statement from Converse County Sheriff Clint Becker and Glenrock Police Chief David Theel and Douglas Police Chief Todd Byerly.
Monday, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wyoming hospitals are seeing record numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients and rising deaths, and further action was needed. He issued orders, approved by State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, about face coverings in certain indoor public settings, reducing group sizes and reducing hours of business when COVID-19 transmission is more like to occur.
But Sweetwater and Fremont counties' sheriffs reacted, saying they would not enforce the mandate because it legally, as written, is unenforceable.
Laramie County Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove also said in October her office would not prosecute anyone for violating that county's face mask mandate. She has not made a statement about the new statewide mandate.
Sweetwater County Sheriff John Grossnickle and County Attorney Dan Erramouspe said the new order does not allow deputies a means to distinguish those who are exempt from the requirement and those who are willfully violating it.
To successfully bring action against someone allegedly violating the mandate, they said prosecutors need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this person does not suffer from a mental or physical condition preventing them from doing so.
Itzen agreed, but didn't think enforcement was impossible.
"You've got to look at it and determine the case as it's presented to you before you can make any real decisions," he said. "There has to be a reasonable likelihood of success."
These county officials agreed that the pandemic was real, and did not doubt the efficacy of wearing masks, social distancing and other preventative measures.
Converse County law enforcement agencies said they have worked to help communities understand the public health orders and encourage voluntary compliance.
Local businesses, according to the news releases from Converse and Fremont counties, still have the right to refuse service to anyone on their private properties. They may lawfully deny entry to people who refuse to wear a mask, just as they would if people refused to wear a shirt or shoes.
The mask mandate will remain in effect through at least January 8.
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