Officials in Teton County continued their strong, unified messaging at a community update on Friday, asking for two weeks of focused efforts from the public to do what they can to slow the spread of COVID-19. They also announced a short-term, targeted intervention method: A public health recommendation limiting gatherings to just household groups. Teton County Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell explained what this means.
“So the bottom line is you can go wherever you want to go and do whatever you want to do with people who live under the same roof as you,” he said. That’s what we mean by households, whether it’s roommates or family members. You can eat at a restaurant, you can have a drink with them at a cafe, you can catch a show with them at a theater, all of that is ok. And what we don’t want you to do is hang out outside of work and school with people who aren’t living under your roof. That means don’t meet out for coffee, don’t ride on the chairlift with them, don’t invite people over to your house, and don’t go over to other people’s houses.”
These private gatherings with friends outside the home, where masks may come off and people let their guard down, are just as important to spreading the virus as public events are. Riddell said he’s asking people to follow this recommendation just until December 15.
“I want to say it doesn’t have to be this way. We can still save so many lives and save our entire economy along the way,” he said. “I know the ebb and flow of this pandemic around the world, hitting different places at different times, may feel random and stochastic, but in fact, it’s entirely dependent on the behavior of human beings.”
Riddell also said that he did submit a variance request to the state asking to make this an enforceable order rather than just a recommendation. However, he said we can’t afford to wait for the state’s response, which could take a while. So, he’s asking the public for help now as our hospitals near capacity and the winter tourism season begins. The Town of Jackson unanimously voted to support this resolution Friday, and the Teton County Commission has it on its agenda today. Jackson Mayor Pete Muldoon amplified the message of local health officials, who he said he’s trusting throughout this pandemic process.
“There are a lot of people who have got a lot of essential things they need to do. But there are a lot of things that we don’t have to do that are optional,” Muldoon said. “And those are the things that our health professionals this week are asking us to not do if they’re not safe. To not gather with people outside of our households. It’s going to be hard. This is going to be hard for a little while, but it sure would be nice to be able to bring this back down to a manageable level, especially for the holidays.”
Slowing the spread now is especially critical given that there is a glimmer of hope so close on the horizon. St. John’s CEO Dr. Paul Beaupre says he’s expecting to receive about 976 Pfizer vaccines in the last week of December. 220 or so will be for Teton County residents, and the rest will be distributed to surrounding areas. More will be on the way after that.
In addition to the new recommendations, Muldoon said the town police department has been directed to ramp up enforcement of the current mask ordinances if there is probable cause that someone acted within violation of them.
“So we today decided that these public health orders do have the force of law and we do have the ability to cite. And we are expecting that we’ll be doing that moving forward,” he said.
Teton County’s mask order was extended last week to include office spaces and nonprofits. It was also expanded to include those over 12 years old, which is critical for local after-school activities. Multiple Teton County Health officials said last week that many activities, notably close contact sports, should be suspended right now. Dr. Gillian Chapman, Superintendent of the Teton County School District, spoke in defense of after-school affairs at the update Friday.
“We have been offering structured and very closely monitored activities as we believe these programs are beneficial to the physical, mental, and emotional health in normal times and maybe even more important in times of stress,” Chapman said. “In order to maintain engagement in school and to support students, we have gone to great lengths to ensure safety.”
Dr. Riddell said that his recent recommendation does apply to activities that gather within six feet of one another, including sports. Chapman said the School Board is meeting on Wednesday to consider their COVID-19 strategy.