Wyoming and Natrona County businesses, schools, restaurants, bars and individuals for months have been told to abide by state and local health department recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Recommendations have included wearing face masks so those who may be infected with the coronavirus don't transmit it, frequently washing hands, and practicing social distancing -- all of which have taken hard tolls on individuals and businesses.

But the recommendations apparently didn't apply to the hundreds of people who gathered last week for demonstrations that formally protested -- on June 3 and 5 -- and informally -- on June 2 and 3 -- the May 25 police death by asphyxiation of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, restaurateur Jacquie Anderson said Thursday.

"What were the reasons for them to allow a political protest, and to totally disregard everything we that had been pretty much shut down with in terms with everything we have to do to abide by the health department mandate," said Anderson, who soon will be reopening the Cheese Barrel, 544 S. Center St.

She will be able to open the Cheese Barrel at 100% occupancy because it is a new restaurant, but other bars and restaurants are still operating under the current restrictions that have cut their occupancy to 35% to 50%. If they don't operate at full capacity, they lose money, she added.

The Wyoming Department of Health and the Casper-Natrona County Health Department were proactive with the orders from Gov. Mark Gordon about the size of gatherings, closing schools and businesses, and preventative measures, Anderson said.

But the local health department wasn't proactive with the demonstrations; it didn't ask people to wear masks or set up tables with hand sanitizer, Anderson said. "If the health department would have made its presence known, we could have some warnings about 'these are the rules for protests.'"

She also noted the irony of some people who were adamant about staying home and social distancing who were among those who attended the demonstrations.

Anderson has asked the Casper-Natrona County Health Department for answers, but has not received any.

In an email response to questions from K2 Radio News, department spokeswoman Hailey Bloom said that it cannot be responsible for organizations that do not consult it about slowing the spread of COVID-19. "There is no obligation or requirement for events that claim or plan to fall within the limits of the statewide orders to collaborate with or notify the department."

It's not possible for the health department to actively search for events that may fall outside of Gordon's  orders, but it will work with organizations to offer advice, such as when the Natrona County School District asked it about conducting high school graduations, Bloom said.

The June 5 vigil was organized by the Wyoming chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. SCLC head Jimmy Simmons did not return a phone call and a Facebook message seeking comment.

Bloom said the department, in the week before and during the demonstrations, made six announcements regarding new cases and reminded the community how to stay safe.

"It is ultimately up to the individual to make the decision for themselves as to how and what they will do to protect themselves and others," she said.

Anderson isn't convinced.

She wondered whether the coronavirus was spread at the demonstrations, and what the health department will do if it did. Symptoms appear between two and 14 days after exposure.

"What if we get a spike because of the protests," Anderson asked.

"What about the hospital beds that we were worried about, and the ICU units that we were worried about? What are you going to do then? Because of your lack of communication and your inability to lead us, we're going to pay a price, my community is going to pay the price."

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