They hoped to test a couple hundred people. The Teton County Health Department and Emerg-A-Care far surpassed that number.
During a community Covid-19 testing event on Thursday, more than 1,300 people showed up to the Teton County Fairgrounds. All day long, lines of motorists stretched across the dirt parking lot. People waited between 30 minutes to an hour for their turn, opening car windows to cool down and cranking air conditioning as the fairgrounds heated up beneath the sun.
Sara Dery, 24, waited in her grey Subaru Outback. She has a chronic lung condition and faces a high risk of developing complications from COVID-19.
“So this is the most people I have seen in a long time,” she said through a face mask.
For the past two months, Dery has barely left her house and dramatically limited the people with whom she has been in contact. But today, she wasn’t getting a test with her own health in mind. She was there “to help do my part to see if this community is really working hard on preventing spread or if we’re not.”
Gaining a snapshot of disease spread in Teton County was the impetus behind a community-wide testing event.
Cases of the novel coronavirus plateaued a few weeks ago and Teton County has hovered around 69 confirmed and 31 probable cases of Covid-19 for more than two weeks. One person died from the virus in April while 100 patients have recovered.
Now health officials are trying to keep infection rates low as the town reopens and an influx of visitors, some coming from coronavirus hotspots and many unmasked, arrive in Jackson Hole.
The Teton County Health Department selected May 28 for a community testing event because it was 10 to 14 days from the easing of health orders that have reopened many businesses and halted some social distancing measures, said Rachael Wheeler, Public Health Response Coordinator for Teton County Health Department.
“Disease could potentially be spreading,” she said. “So we picked this day … so we can feel confident as our community continues to reopen.”
Teton County Health Department has been working to expand its testing efforts through a grant from the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole. In recent weeks, it was providing vouchers for free tests to even those with mild symptoms. But the response was mild too, said Jodie Pond, director of Teton County Health Department, so they opened up testing to reach a broader segment of the population.
This event marked the first time that anyone, including asymptomatic folks, could get a free Covid-19 test and more than 400 people took advantage of that, Pond said Friday.
Although everyone was welcome, health department staffers were still surprised by the numbers, including roughly 200 people who made the trek from Sublette County.
Wheeler says she and colleagues pivoted quickly to accommodate the unexpected crowds.
As lines of motorists grew, they pulled more people from the health department to help. Jackson Police Department shifted patrol plans and one to two officers remained at the fairgrounds all day.
When Emerg-A-Care’s Dr. Brent Blue saw the steady stream of cars with no end in sight, he made a call to his office and asked everyone to join him at the fairgrounds, leaving just one physician assistant and a front desk person to staff his clinic on Broadway.
Blue said widespread testing is a key step on the town’s path to reopening.
“The idea of getting everybody tested, and making everybody feel a little bit more secure about getting out and getting back towards some semblance of normalcy I think is important,” he said.
Peter Regan, donning a cloth mask, was waiting for a test in the passenger seat of his SUV with his window rolled down. His masked teenage son Sean was in the driver’s seat, his wife Colleen and daughter Grace, also donning masks, were in the back.
“My wife is making us get tested,” Regan quipped, drawing groans from the backseat. “No, mostly we want to contribute to this snapshot for the whole community, we are 100 percent positive that we’re going to be negative. But this whole community effort to get a snapshot in time for all of Jackson is going to be very helpful for the medical people.”
Health officials will send the tests today and tomorrow to a private lab that Emerg-A-Care uses, LabCorp, or to the Wyoming Department of Health’s laboratory. Turnaround will take approximately four days and once the results are in, health officials will first contact positive patients, then those who tested negative. Pond says antsy folks should keep in mind the volume of impending test results and “be patient as we work through all of these samples.”
[An earlier version of this story stated roughly 1,200 people participated in the community testing event, according to an estimate provided by Teton County Health Department. After an official count, the health department released updated numbers upwards of 1,300 people. -Ed.]