The pandemic’s economic fallout hit state agencies this week as Gov. Mark Gordon finalized the latest, but not last, round of budget cuts.
COVID-19’s spread, meanwhile, continued to regain speed after slowing in early August. Over the past 14 days, the average daily number of lab-confirmed positive cases reached 35, up from 27 for the period of July 30-Aug. 12, according to a press release from Gordon’s office.
Known active cases of the disease — the number of people officials believe are fighting infections but haven’t yet recovered — grew to 625 by Friday, according to DOH numbers. That’s an increase of 23 from last Friday.
Other metrics improved. Wyoming’s lab-confirmed caseload reached 3,166 by Friday morning with 226 added in the last week — 87 fewer new cases than were added the previous week. Total recoveries grew by 197 from last week to 2,586 — five more than the previous week.
The DOH reported zero COVID-19-related deaths. Last week it reported seven. Hospitalizations dropped from 20 on Monday to 13 Thursday afternoon. The average percentage of tests that have come back positive over the past 14 days has declined, to 2.45%, Gordon said during a Wednesday press conference.
Still, Gordon and the DOH opted to extend current state health orders, this time until Sept. 15.
The majority of Gordon’s remarks Wednesday did not pertain to COVID-19 case data. He focused instead on budget cuts he finalized this week in response to a massive revenue shortfall caused by the pandemic and declining mineral industries.
This first round of cuts total more than $250 million. They will result in the elimination of 274 state positions — most currently vacant — and the layoff of 20-30 people. It will mark the first time since the 1980s that state workers will lose their jobs as a result of budget reductions, the Casper Star-Tribune reports.
The Department of Health will have $90 million slashed from its budget — which is the state’s largest. Programs on the chopping block include those that serve elderly, disabled and low-income individuals, according to the governor’s office.
The Department of Family Services is eliminating positions, the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges saw their budgets reduced by 10% and the Department of Corrections will also experience significant cuts.
Gordon called the cuts “devastating,” but said there are no other options.
“They will impact Wyoming residents, absolutely all Wyoming residents, in some way,” he said. “I am saddened that we have to make these cuts. But Wyoming is facing over a billion dollar shortfall. That’s a third of our income.”
Hundreds of millions more in cuts are still expected. Gordon also said he may ask K-12 school districts to voluntarily join the rest of the state and “identify where they can make 10% cuts.”
The announcement came the day after the Joint Revenue Committee turned down proposals to increase sales and property taxes, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports.
The first day of school arrived for many Wyoming students, only this time it featured safety measures like desk spacing, hand sanitizer stations and mask rules in many places. In Goshen County, a Torrington High School student tested positive for COVID-19 after attending class, and district officials were conducting contact tracing efforts this week, the Torrington Telegram reports. A Riverton High School student also tested positive after attending school, the Wyoming News Exchange reports, and several people have been quarantined as a result.
In Fremont County, church gatherings have been associated with three outbreaks in July and August. Some 45 cases have been connected to those outbreaks, according to a county press release.
Wyoming’s unemployment numbers dropped slightly, from 7.6% in June to 7.1% in July, the Department of Workforce Services reports. Compared to 2019, unemployment rates are higher across the state. Still, rates fell in all 23 counties in July, according to DWS, with the largest decrease occurring in Teton County (down from 9.4% to 5.7%).
Those trends represent a bright spot, Gordon said.
“This is a challenging time. But I do believe that there are reasons for optimism and I do believe there are brighter days ahead due to the sacrifices we’re making,” he said, such as wearing masks and social distancing. “Those are having positive effects and those positive effects will ripple into our economy.”