[Update, 5:45 p.m. Thursday, July 2 — Jackson Town Council voted to draft a face mask ordinance. The council will hold a special meeting 3 p.m. Friday, July 3, to discuss the potential passage of that ordinance.]
Jackson officials are losing patience as they wait for state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist to approve a mask mandate for Teton County.
Mayor Pete Muldoon announced a special Jackson Town Council meeting for 5 p.m. tonight to discuss an emergency ordinance that would require the use of face masks in public spaces. The announcement comes two days after Teton district health officer Dr. Travis Riddell submitted to Harrist an order mandating masks in Teton County, a measure research shows prevents the spread of COVID-19. The day prior, Jackson Town Council passed a resolution supporting such a directive. The council’s unanimous vote followed testimony from business owners who reported heated confrontations with customers refusing to wear masks in their businesses.
During a Teton District Board of Health meeting Tuesday, Riddell said the order was time-sensitive. He wanted it in place ahead of the July Fourth weekend when the valley’s visitation numbers spike significantly.
As the order sits unsigned on Harrist’s desk, the fast-approaching holiday coupled with a surge in nationwide cases is troubling, Muldoon said.
“We are past 50,000 new infections per day in the United States. Jackson is a tourist destination that attracts people from all over the country and this will be one of the busiest weekends of the year. I think it’s important we do everything we can to protect the health of our residents and our guests.”
Masks are the most effective and convenient way to do that, Riddell said Tuesday.
The rush to enact such a measure comes amid an uptick in local cases—the valley has 26 active cases of the novel coronavirus, a notable rise following a plateau in infection rates several weeks prior. Wyoming, meanwhile, has seen a spike over the last few weeks with more than 20 new cases daily—today it reported 36 additional cases. The state matched its highest caseload for a single day on June 22.
During a press conference Wednesday, Harrist and Gov. Mark Gordon reiterated their support for masks and measures encouraging people to wear them. Gordon acknowledged people in Wyoming are reluctant to “mask up” but said he did not envision such a mandate for the state. Yet the governor said he could see the need for a health order in Teton County where there is a massive influx of visitors from across the nation, many who do not wear face coverings.
Harrist said she and her team, including the state attorney general, were still reviewing the mandate and would likely have an answer “within the next couple of days.”
“There is increasing and broadening evidence of the effectiveness of face masks in preventing and limiting the transmission of COVID-19,” she said. “I’ve been clear for some time that I support the use of face masks for those purposes and support measures to increase the use of face masks.”
For his part, Muldoon has repeatedly said he would prefer for public health policy to be made and issued by health officer Riddell. But that hinges on state approval. So as the clock ticks, he says the council must take the lead. “Dr. Riddell has made his policy preferences very clear but is unable to issue them and if we can help, I think it’s time that we do.”
Watch the meeting here.