Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Feb. 11

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on news from the health, housing and Game & Fish departments, as well as Wyomingite Jaelin Kauf's performance in Beijing.
Chronic wasting disease was recently discovered in another hunting area in Wyoming, and some wildlife biologists worry the always-fatal disease could spread to Jackson Hole's massive elk herds. (Reimar/Shutterstock)

by | Feb 11, 2022 | Weekly News Roundups

Local GOP Pays Tribute to Christensen

Residents across Wyoming continue to mourn former state senator Leland Christensen, who passed away last week from complications from COVID-19 while also battling cancer. Locally, Christensen served as a Teton County commissioner and sheriff. 

Chair of the Teton County Republican Party Mary Martin said Christensen, of Alta, was a good listener who cared deeply about others and his home county–even after taking state positions under Gov. Mark Gordon and Sen. Cynthia Lummis.

“He just called me out of the blue, oh maybe six months ago, and he goes, ‘I just was kinda thinking I should call and see what’s up and see if there’s something I can do to maybe help you.’ And that’s just kind of the person that Leland was,” Martin said. 

Martin said she’s known Christensen since 1990 when they met through Teton County 4H. Christensen volunteered with the horse and livestock programs and as an auctioneer, and was part of the leadership that paved the way for Heritage Arena, the home of rodeo in Jackson. But most of all, Christensen was known as a dedicated father and husband.

“I spoke with his son yesterday and he will leave a legacy of service and kindness and goodness,” Martin said. “As far as the kind of community that I believe we all want to live in, Leland’s family are the kind of community members that every community would want.”

A funeral service for Christensen is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 26, in Driggs, Idaho.

Health Department Pushes Fourth Booster for Some Local Residents 

The Teton County Health Department has announced that some immunocompromised community members are now eligible for a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Public Health Response Coordinator for the department Rachael Wheeler said this group became eligible for a third dose back in August. But that was considered part of their primary vaccine series.

“This is a group that, depending on their medical condition or the medications they’re on, may not have the same immune response from a vaccine as the average adult,” she said. “And so these are the people we wanted to really make sure that they were aware they can get their booster because we want to make sure they’re protected.”

The fourth shots are only authorized for individuals aged 16 and up considered moderately or severely immunocompromised. That could mean folks actively undergoing some cancer treatments or who have received an organ or stem cell transplant. As for average adults, Wheeler said the department doesn’t expect another dose to be authorized anytime soon unless a different vaccine formula is approved for a specific variant of concern. 

Meanwhile, the Omicron surge continues to drop off in Teton County, though the percentage of positive tests still lands us in the “High” risk level. Wheeler also acknowledges that much of the mostly-vaccinated community is probably feeling some COVID fatigue.

“Bear with us,” she said. “You’ve already taken those important steps to protect yourselves. We understand that at this time peoples’ risk tolerance may be a little less stringent than it was a year ago–and that’s okay. Because things have changed.

More information about boosters and vaccines is available at tetoncountywy.gov/covidvax.

Kauf Takes Silver 

Wyoming’s own Jaelin Kauf took home the silver medal Sunday for her freestyle mogul run at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. The Alta native flashed her new hardware in an interview with NBC sports Monday, where she relived her lightning-quick performance, which was over a second faster than anyone else in the competition. 

‘You know I’ve learned that it’s not guaranteed. Every run isn’t guaranteed. Every round at this event was not guaranteed,” she said. “So for me, I just wanted to go out and put it all out there every single run. And that’s exactly what I did. 

To get to her first career podium, Kauf overcame disappointment in 2018 in Pyeongchang, as well as multiple injury recoveries. Both of her parents were also accomplished mogul skiers, and her family and friends gathered at the Tetonia Club in Idaho to watch the run and make an appearance on national television. Kauf is the first female American mogul skier to win an Olympic medal since 2014. 

Electeds Continue Preservation Program 

The Teton County Board of County Commissioners and Jackson Town Council had a long conversation about one of its most controversial affordable housing programs during a joint meeting Monday. The Housing Preservation Program, which provides financial assistance for locals purchasing real estate in exchange for permanent deed restrictions on the properties, has dolled out over $600,000 to 19 households in about a year. 

Plenty of public commenters expressed concerns over how much the housing department is paying per each deed restriction conversion, which is tens of thousands of dollars per unit. Others are opposed to just the concept of local investments in affordable housing in general. But County Commissioner Mark Barron said it’s pretty clear that the community wants to see solutions to the current crunch on local workers, and it wants the government’s help. 

“We’ve had, just for the audience, I don’t know, four or five split initiatives for housing-specific affordable housing projects. That’s your sales tax money that have been taxpayer approved since we started the housing program in 2001. So whether we like it personally or we don’t like it personally, a majority of our constituents like affordable housing,” Barron said. 

The commission voted unanimously, and the town council 4-1, to continue this particular program in general, though more details, including how much will be invested in this, and other slight rule changes, will be ironed out in the coming weeks. 

Anti-Trans Bill Proposed 

State lawmakers filed a bill last week that would ban transgender women and girls in Wyoming from participating in public high school or college sports on teams that align with their gender identity. Janna Farley is the communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming, and said, if the bill were passed, it would be unconstitutional. Similar proposals have been tried and have failed elsewhere in the country, including in a state next door. 

“A federal judge blocked Idaho’s law that was targeting transgender student-athletes, recognizing that it’s not just the constitutional rights of transgender girls and women athletes at issue, but the constitutional rights of every girl and woman athlete in Idaho,” Farley said. 

Farley also said the ACLU opposes bringing this legislation to the floor in the first place, particularly during this year’s fast-paced budget session, which takes place over just four weeks and doesn’t allow for as much nuanced debate as in typical years. 

“We’ve got a lot of priorities for our legislators to consider during the session. You know, they’re going to be finalizing the once in a decade redistricting plan and, you know, finalizing the budget, spending those American Rescue Plan Act funds from the federal government,” Farley said. “So our legislators have a lot to consider in a very short period of time.” 

Additionally, many Wyoming schools already have a rarely used transgender athlete policy in place, featuring decision-makers on a local level and an appeals process should disagreements come up.

Cheney Censured Nationally 

The Republican National Committee voted to censure Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney recently for her role investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. capitol. The vote means the national party will not support Cheney anymore in her current primary reelection or in future campaigns. In an interview with Fox News about the vote, chair of the Wyoming GOP Frank Eathorne said he’s been pushing against Cheney since she’s become more outspoken against former president Donald Trump. 

“In Wyoming, we don’t necessarily embrace the idea of a big tent,” he said. 

The Wyoming Republican Party has already formally censured Cheney. They also seem to be supporting her main challenger, Harriet Hageman, who leads the primary race in in-state donations though Cheney leads by far overall. 

Cheney’s response to Friday’s vote on the national level was simple: “I don’t recognize those in my party anymore who have abandoned the constitution to embrace Trump.” 

Game & Fish News

Chronic wasting disease was discovered in another Wyoming hunting area, according to a state Game and Fish Department press release. The sample was collected from a mule deer in the Pinedale area, and over three quarters of the land area in the Cowboy State has now seen at least one CWD-positive animal. CWD is always fatal and spreads from animals making close contact with each other, and wildlife managers worry its spread could be detrimental to local elk herds in Jackson Hole. 

In other Game and Fish news, a Natrona County man will have to pay over $45,000 in fines after his jerky company was caught using poached meat in place of beef. The man had been illegally harvesting deer and pronghorn and marketing it as beef jerky, and was found to have violated 26 wildlife laws in the process. The investigation originally came to light due to a tip on the Game and Fish poaching hotline. 

County Funds COVID Testing 

The Teton County Board of Commissioners approved $1.3 million in funding for continued COVID-19 testing and surveillance through 2024 during their meeting Monday. The grant allows for the county department of health to staff up and maintain services it currently provides, and be prepared for any future variants of the virus should they come up. Commissioner Mark Newcomb outlined why this money allocation is important. 

“We want to have a separate discussion about reporting requirements, but I think having widespread testing available is just fundamental for protecting the folks that still are at risk and the community,” he said. 

The commission voted unanimously affirming the funding, however, some expressed concerns about overtesting community members and forcing shutdowns and quarantines throughout Jackson Hole. Department of health staff will check in every three months with electeds to update them regarding COVID-19 mitigation efforts in Teton County. 

Immigrant Hope to Help New Businesses 

The nonprofit Immigrant Hope Wyoming/Idaho is launching a new business sponsorship program. Lura Matthews, executive director of the organization, said the program will support Immigrant Hope in continuing to help local workers either maintain or gain legal work status.

“The business sponsorship program is a way for local businesses to give back to the immigrant workforce that keeps the community running,” she said.

Matthews said Immigrant Hope helped 90 workers in 2021 with DACA renewals and green card and citizenship applications. She also said many local businesses might have current or former clients of Immigrant Hope working for them without realizing it.

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