Masks No Longer Required in Teton County Schools
Face masks are now optional in the Teton County School District. The school board voted narrowly during a special meeting on New Year’s Day to mirror regulations at the county level, where the face covering requirement in most public spaces expired at the end of Dec. The 3-3 decision counted as a “no” to extend the requirement because no majority was reached. It also came after over an hour of public comment on both sides of the debate.
“I am not a healthcare professional, and I don’t feel qualified to really make this decision that we should override what Dr. Riddell has suggested,” said Trustee Janine Teske, explaining her vote against continuing the mandate.
Teske added that she believes masks are having a negative psychological impact on children, and that hospitalizations and cases are happening rarely among local students. On the other side, those who supported extending the requirement worried that surging case numbers due to the Omicron variant could lead to mass quarantines, staff strains and eventual shifts to virtual schooling. That’s why Teske also asked Superintendent Dr. Gillian Chapman to send an email to all students and staff recommending face coverings, which follows current local department of health guidelines.
“I think our staff should be greatly encouraged to wear them and I think our students should be encouraged to wear them, but I don’t think we should be mandating to them that they do it,” Teske said.
The number of new COVID-19 cases has jumped significantly in Jackson in recent weeks, with the Teton County Health Department recording its highest number of daily cases at any point during the pandemic at the end of last week. Hospitalizations and severe cases of the virus, however, have remained low thus far, according to local data. Superintendent Chapman did not voice her opinion on mask requirements during Saturday’s meeting.
New Study Shows Elevated ‘Psychological Distress’ in the Rural West Amid Pandemic
Rural Western residents have been struggling over the past few years, according to a new study. Nearly half of respondents in the more than 1,200-person survey say they experienced at least mild mental health problems during the first year of the pandemic. Plus, almost 15% are exhibiting symptoms of serious psychological distress like extreme restlessness, worry, and hopelessness.
“These results, I think, serve as kind of a cry for attention when it comes to what appears to be very serious issues of psychological distress across the rural West,” said Tom Mueller, a professor at the University of Oklahoma and a co-author of the paper.
Teton County Search and Rescue Year-End Report Highlights Team’s Mental Health Needs
Hiking, horseback riding and boating were three of the most common activities that required assistance from Teton County Search and Rescue (TCSAR) during the summer 2021 season. That’s according to the team’s year-end rescue report released in late December. The team also spent an unusually high amount of time working on three back-to-back missing person searches last fall, which required cooperation with federal agencies including the U.S. Forest Service and the FBI.
“When these outside agencies came into town and were looking for help to solve these problems in the backcountry, the search and rescue volunteers really stood up to that challenge and made it work,” said Matt Hansen, communications director for the TCSAR Foundation.
The report also addressed the mental toll that working on such difficult missions can have on team members. Hansen said the foundation prioritizes caring for the volunteers’ mental health and that a new group of recruits is also helping boost morale.
“To have the 10 new class members on board, I think, provides some added confidence going into the winter that there are more people to call on in case we go into another situation where there are, you know, multiple instances happening day to day [and] sometimes multiple instances happening at the same time,” Hansen said.
In total, Teton County SAR had 103 calls for service last year–just shy of the record of 105 set in 2017.
Wyoming’s Rep. Cheney in Spotlight on Anniversary of Jan. 6 Insurrection
One year after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney continues to be the face of the fight to hold former President Donald Trump accountable for his role in the riot. Speaking to CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, the Republican said the committee investigating the attack, which she is a member of, could pursue charges against Trump for “dereliction of duty.” She also said it’s dangerous for members of her party to let the former president take over the GOP.
“This is a man who has demonstrated that he is at war with the rule of law,” Cheney said. “He’s demonstrated that he’s willing to blow through every guardrail of democracy, and he can never be anywhere near the Oval Office again. He’s demonstrated a complete lack of fitness for office.”
Cheney faces a stiff challenge from Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman in this year’s Republican primary for Wyoming’s lone congressional seat. The Cowboy State is one of the reddest in the nation, and a new poll found that more than half of Republicans believe the Jan. 6 rioters were protecting American democracy rather than seeking to overturn the lawful results of a democratic election.
Cheney also stopped short of confirming but didn’t rule out a 2024 presidential run of her own during the CBS interview, saying she’s currently focused on her Wyoming race.