RIVERTON — White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx visited Riverton on Wednesday and had a clear message: Face masks work in preventing COVID-19 from spreading.

And they're not political.

After meeting with Governor Mark Gordon and Wind River Reservation tribal leaders, Birx fielded questions from reporters.

Birx attributed the recent surge in cases to recent cold snaps that brought people in. It's not different than Americans in the South going indoors as temperatures soared there through the summer.

But health professionals know the necessary steps in preventing a surge from getting worse, Birx said — and it's simple: Wear a face covering and maintain six feet of social distancing when in public.

"Every child in Wyoming could go outside without their mask when it's cold and blow and see their droplets," Birx said. "Do that without a mask and do that with a mask and show how it contains your droplets.

"That's the best example of how we can show each and every person of Wyoming why masks are effective in preventing the spread."

Asked to address those who believe wearing — or not wearing — facemasks is a political issue, Birx was clear: The virus doesn't discriminate between Democrats and Republicans. The decision to wear a facemask is not political; it's based in science.

Birx said not following protocols and spreading the virus to someone who later dies could be something people “carry with them." She cited her parents who are in their 90s and other at-risk populations.

"We owe it to each other," Birx said on taking precautions to prevent spreading COVID. "People live among us with those co-morbidities."

"We need to assume that we are among those who need protection and that's why we need to wear a mask."

And the only way to achieve herd immunity — roughly 80% — is to implement a vaccine program. The goal is to control the virus and prevent it from making its way to the most vulnerable populations, Birx said.

Currently, Wyoming does not have a mask mandate in place, although Teton County enforces a requirement. Laramie County is in the final steps of implementing a mandate.

Gordon said environments vary throughout Wyoming's communities and it's up to them to take personal responsibility in wearing a mask and keeping their neighbors safe.

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