The Fremont County Sheriff joined another county on Thursday when he said that he will not enforce Gov. Mark Gordon's new face covering mandate to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Sheriff Ryan Lee said that Fremont County has been following public health guidelines since March, and it is aware of what people can do to minimize the spread of the disease in communities and families.

But compliance with the new order is up to individuals and not up to law enforcement, Lee said.

"Our Governor is sending a strong message about the current state of affairs in Wyoming," he said. "I understand his directive, however my office will not be issuing criminal citations."

Local businesses still have the right to refuse service to anyone on their private properties, Lee said.

Those businesses, he added, 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.

Fremont County Sheriff's deputies and staff will continue to wear face coverings when in contact with residents to slow the transmission of COVID-19 to themselves and the public, Lee said.

Monday, Gordon said Wyoming hospitals are seeing record numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients and rising deaths, and further action was needed to slow the spread of the disease.

The new battery of orders, approved by State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, included new restrictions 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.

Tuesday, the Sweetwater County sheriff and attorney said they won't enforce the new mandate not because they doubted the efficacy of masks, but because it can't be applied legally.

Sweetwater County Sheriff John Grossnickle and County Attorney Dan Erramouspe said they "remain firm in their assessment that the mask mandate as written is unenforceable under the law."

Grossnickle and 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, 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.

The mask mandate will remain in effect through at least January 8.

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