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In Wyoming, the covid wave, a faltering energy economy and a thriving haven for the rich

Oil prices It fell in April As the Coronavirus corrupted global energy markets – and Wyoming’s economy went with it.

Anyone who knows the economy of the less populous state will tell you that Wyoming is an energy center, producing 40 percent of the nation’s coal and 15 times the energy it consumes. In 2018, its production was energy Third after Texas and Pennsylvania. But by the second quarter of 2020, the country had lost 1 in 5 energy jobs due to lower prices.

Jonathan Tichert, a city manager, in Douglas, Wyoming, a small city of around 6,000 that is the county seat of Converse County, said most of the revenue comes from sales tax related to the energy industry. So far, they’ve achieved about a third of the revenue they had by this time last year.

He said, “We made a 25 percent reduction in our budget from last year, and that was probably overly optimistic.”

A silhouette of a Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant in front of the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyoming on July 27, 2018.J. David Ake / AP File

When the oil runs low, companies shut down wells and lay off workers. Tichert said school enrollment decreased this year because the unemployed chose their families and left. They have been tough times for many residents who have left without many job options, and only now are grappling with soaring Covid-19 cases, eight months into the pandemic.

“The energy industry has really got access to easy and cheap oil and gas resources,” said Kyle Tisdale, a lawyer at the Center for Western Environmental Law who studies the state’s economy in boom and bust, in much of Wyoming. So companies have turned to more expensive methods such as horizontal fracturing.

“You are talking about a point equivalent to $ 50 and $ 60 a barrel, and oil is moving between $ 40 and $ 45,” he said. “All signs show that we will not go much higher for the foreseeable future.”

Without profits, companies leave. “Societies bear the burden and are the first to feel the impacts,” said Tesdell.

But if you don’t live in the state, Wyoming might seem like an open area where celebs like Kanye West live Go escape and relax, Or maybe Read their land rights to fracking companies.

When California was plagued by wildfires, YouTube makeup mogul Geoffrey Star went to his home in Wyoming.

It’s a strange atmosphere here in California, said Starr. On his Instagram story. “That means it’s time to go to Wyoming, so I’m going to take the plane now and go away for a few days.”

This scenario, in which energy companies will flee the country at any moment while the wealthy flee to the country, is an indication of “structural decline,” Tesdell said.

This summer, with unemployment soaring statewide, Jackson Hole, the popular ski destination and one of the most economically unequal regions in America, has had a season more than ever before. The The real estate industry broke records With sales up 14 percent and over $ 1.5 billion in real estate spent in just the first nine months of 2020.

Yet while companies may leave, the rich are coming in part because of the place Wyoming occupies in the public imagination, according to Justin Farrell, professor of sociology at Yale University and author of the book “Wild billionaire” book, He said.

For the wealthy, Wyoming is the epitome of escape from the pandemic and other problems, where open skies and empty grasslands can help you clear your mind. With states shutting down, Wyoming has remained open. “We’ve been socially distancing for the 130 years that we were a state,” John Barrasso, R-Wyo. , Happy in Fox & Friends in April, Explaining why Wyoming did not issue a home order.

The rich were already emerging by then, and the way they continue to experience the pandemic looks very different from most others in the state. Covid-19, in Wyoming and elsewhere across the country, has revealed these disparities.

If you live on a multimillion dollar ranch in Jackson Hole, you can reach private doctors. Farrell said you might have brought your ventilator with you when you ran off to the state. But elsewhere in the state, where there are only about 5 people per square mile, residents are left exposed to the labor market and generally lack access to healthcare. The population is older and more vulnerable on average, and many people live far from clinics.

Luxury havens like Jackson Hole translate into more money being spent in society, sure, but the elites that relocate to Wyoming, which have no income tax, often do so to protect against taxes. Farrell believes that state politicians “choose the rich over their neighbors” and that Wyoming needs to do more to hold the big corporations that come to Wyoming accountable for their resources, “take advantage of them and leave them” and abandon the workers who made them rich.

Visitors await to watch Old Faithful explode in Yellowstone National Park on June 15, 2020, outside of Jackson, Y.George Free / Getty Images file

Now, the spread of the virus is out of control in Wyoming, as it is in most of the inland western regions. The state reported a 475 percent increase in cases in late October, and since then, the spread has continued. The state has registered More than 21,300 cases Coronavirus since the start of the epidemic, and more than 15,000 of them have occurred since October 1.

“The crisis is here, and it will get worse,” Farrell said.

In the hard-hit New York City, about 1 in 32 residents has contracted Covid-19. In Albany County, Wyoming, the home of Laramie, the ratio is about 1 in 18 It does not have a mask mandateBut Albany County put one in place last week, just a few days after the death of the state representative who tested positive for the Coronavirus and the governor’s announcement that he should be removed yet. I was exposed to the virus during the meeting That included the White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx.

In Converse County, Wyoming, public health nurse manager Darcy Cowardan and her team are working to flatten their incidence curve. The Border County recorded just over 13,500 people 396 casesAs of Friday, there were 118 active cases. These are astronomical figures for such a small community.

“Our hospital is badly damaged,” Cowarden said. Contact tracing is overwhelmed, the virus has made its way into schools and masking has become a nightmare to apply. Most of the spread comes from family gatherings, bars and local events.

“The bottom has fallen,” Cordan said of the energy sector meltdown. “Add the epidemic, and our community and our county have been hit hard.”

Part of the problem is that for a long time, the virus did not materialize strongly in Converse. In August and September, Wyoming was registering a few dozen cases statewide on a bad day. Many residents felt that the crisis that was unfolding across the country would not have occurred. And when that happened, the small hospitals had no way to prepare, and not everyone was on board to stop the spread.

“We are in a society that no one wants to be told what to do,” she said. “There is only this pocket of people who do not want to accept that this is a thing.”

Cowardin said a First Amendment group came to the Office of Public Health in Douglas recently, harassed them and videotaped them after they were asked to wear masks. Phone lines were filled with people, many of them from outside the country, shouting horrific things at employees.

“It’s very difficult to be in public health now,” she said.

She also said that it is difficult to meet the needs. The demand for food banks and local aid resources is growing more than ever. Contact tracing has become so critical with cases that the county is no longer able to reach people in need of quarantine and asks people with coronavirus to do their own contact tracing if they can. People in the county have long-term complications from the disease, and deaths are increasing.

Not too far from Cowardin’s Douglas office is the large farm of the superhero queen RuPaul Charles, which spans 60,000 acres. RuPaul He told NPR Earlier in March, the farm was a “truly land administration.” He leases mining and water rights to crushing companies and grazing rights to farms.

When RuPaul is in Converse County and surrounding areas, he doesn’t care much about what happens around or underneath it. He said, “I meditate, and pray.” “And I had a great time paying attention to stillness. There’s a lot of stillness on the farm.”

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