Natrona County Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell on Sunday night said he couldn't live with himself if he did not voice support for a mask mandate, regardless of whether doing so upsets people in the community or not.

Dowell said he spent the last week talking to his counterparts throughout the state as they all tried to figure out what to do.

He made the comments in a video posted to Facebook.

"I don't want to make people mad. I'm not interested in taking away anybody's rights," Dowell said. "But I'm sitting here, in a health emergency,  watching people in the county die, people get hospitalized — and my job is to try to keep people safe and healthy as the county health officer."

Dowell was among more than 20 county health officers who signed a letter last week urging a statewide mask mandate in Wyoming.

On Friday, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon said more health orders are coming in the state, but declined to elaborate. Dowell said he hopes Gordon will announce a mask mandate this week.

The Natrona County Health Officer on Sunday said it is "obvious to me" that face-coverings hinder COVID-19 in spreading through the population.

 

Dowell said seven people died in Natrona County last week. More than 60 percent of the residents in a Natrona County nursing home are positive for COVID, along with several deaths being reported.

And Wyoming Medical Center has steadily housed 50 to 60 people as the surge continues to worsen.

As of Sunday evening, 19,298 Wyomingites have been confirmed to have COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The death total grew to 144 on Saturday.

A small business owner, Dowell said he's beginning to wonder what happens if his employees are unable to come to work.

"I'm sitting there and I'm going what do I do as a small business owner if lose several of my employees," Dowell said, noting that Wyoming Medical Center currently has 40 staff out. "We're in a small county (...) Where do you get the people who are trained to do their job?"

He added that as the virus continues to spread, keeping businesses open is going to become "even more of an issue" as employees get ill.

"Businesses can't stay open if they don't have employees like us," Dowell said. "I want you to think about it as if masking will keep our society more normalized. Yeah, I don't want to wear a mask. You don't either.

"But I don't want to get anyone else sick. The studies that made sense anyway are coming out that masks protect you as well as your family and friends. So it's pretty obvious to me."

The Centers for Disease Control says data backs up masking up when in public. 

Earlier this month, Dowell and other local health officials were heckled off the stage during a meeting in which they intended to brief the community on COVID's spread.

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But for Dowell — an infectious specialist — it would be wrong to ignore his training and not call for a mask mandate.

"I can't as a county health officer say to myself I don't want to make people mad by asking them to mask with an ordinance, but at the same time, how do I live with myself if I don't do what my heart tells me to and my science as an infection specialist knows I should do — sit on the side, say nothing or not much and then watch a disease spread? That's not why I'm county health officer, "he said. "And that's not in my DNA.

"I just cannot do that."