Buildings decontaminated after state employees test for COVID
November 11, 2020
CHEYENNE – At least 40 state employees have tested positive for COVID-19 during the past week, as the number of active virus cases in Wyoming continued its steady rise to new record highs.
The positive tests resulted in portions of seven state-run buildings in Laramie County being decontaminated, two of them for a second time, Gov. Mark Gordon said in a letter sent to all state employees Friday morning.
“The rising number of positive cases and quarantines among state employees is impacting our operations, our ability to deliver products and services, and is resulting in numerous building closures,” Gordon said in the letter.
The buildings that were partially closed for cleaning included the Wyoming State Library, the Wyoming Liquor Division, the Wyoming Water Development Office, the Supreme Court building, the Central Mail Office and portions of the Herschler and Rogers buildings, which house several state agencies.
Gordon’s letter, which was drafted Thursday, mentioned that 20 state employees had contracted the virus since Monday. An additional 20 employees reported positive tests since the memo was drafted, according to Patricia Bach, director of the state’s Department of Administration and Information.
In his memo, Gordon said the closures reflect the rise in COVID-19 cases statewide and “foreshadow the possibility of future business closures due to staffing shortages and sick workers.”
“To me, this is a wake-up call,” Gordon said. “Our response to these deteriorating conditions and our ability to make sure staff is healthy are paramount if we expect Wyoming’s government, our businesses, and thus our economy, to function.”
During the onset of the pandemic in March, Gordon updated the state’s guidance on telework to allow some of its employees to more easily work from home.
Bach estimated roughly 60% of state employees initially worked remotely under the policy, though that eventually changed.
“Through the summer, when (COVID-19) was pretty stagnant … some (agency) directors did bring some people back, and some agencies brought people back that had private offices,” Bach said.
But with the uptick in cases, both statewide and in government, Bach said the direction for state agencies now is to “go back and look at what you did in April and consider going back to that stage.”
“One of the reasons for that, even for folks with private offices, is we have a lot of essential workers that really can’t telework, who have to go into the buildings and work,” Bach said. “The more people that are out of the building, it protects the essential workers that have to come in, as well.”
For example, all but one employee in the Central Mail Room, which distributes mail to state entities in Cheyenne, were in quarantine this week due to potential exposure. However, the positive cases this week have been from a mix of essential and nonessential workers, Bach said.
“Some folks that are testing positive have been teleworking since April, but they were out in the community, and they can get it out in the community a little more than they can in the state buildings, I think,” she added.
Since the pandemic began, at least 150 state employees have taken administrative leave due to positive tests. The majority of those cases has emerged in the past couple months, in line with COVID-19 numbers rising statewide.
In total, nearly 2,000 state employees have requested administrative leave at some point for reasons related to COVID-19, though those requests can be for a variety of reasons.
“(Those requests) could be for their quarantine, because somebody in their family has it, so they can’t come to work,” Bach said. “There’s a whole bunch of different reasons to have administrative COVID leaves, so that number is significantly higher.”
State employees in Laramie County who go in to work will have to wear a mask, following a decision by state leaders Monday to implement a mask requirement in line with the mandate already issued at the county level. The requirement also applies in any other counties that implement a mask mandate.
In his memo, Gordon said the state’s employees “can lead the way in modeling behaviors to keep Wyoming strong, and that those behaviors can extend into our lives outside of the workplace.”
“Our schools, day cares, businesses and government offices are all potentially facing challenges,” Gordon said. “We each can do our part to control the virus by taking the actions we know will work.”