BCC talks mask mandate, Health officals say ‘stay the course’

JACKSON, Wyo. — On Monday, Oct. 25, the Board of County Commissioners met for a meeting. The topic of the Teton County mask mandate was discussed at length.

During public comment, community members from the Mountain Freedom Alliance spoke out against the current mask mandate in effect until Dec. 31, 2021.

Later in the meeting, health officials from the community shared recent updates from their agencies.

The final question of the meeting came from Commissioner Luther Propst. He asked the health officials, “Looking at all the factors, the social and the medical factors including the public comments we heard this morning, would you recommend amending the criteria for lifting the mask mandate or would you recommend amending any other aspects of this mask order at this point?”

“My recommendation would be to continue as we are, for the time being, and of course we will continue to evaluate the system and should that recommendation change at any point, of course, we would make both the commission and the Town Council aware,” said Teton County Health Officer Travis Riddell. Earlier in the meeting, Riddell said, “The idea of any of these health orders makes my stomach turn, I do not have appetite or desire or preference to do any of this. I do these things out of duty.”

Teton County Health Department Director of Health, Jodie Pond agreed with Riddell, she said, “Right at this moment in time I would say stay the course.”

During the meeting Pond discussed the impending approval of COVID-19 vaccines for children 5-11 years old. If approved children 5-11 could begin to be vaccinated the week of Dec. 15.

Booster vaccines and additional doses are also currently being administered in the community. All three vaccines have been approved by the FDA for additional doses.

“Once we get our seniors boosted and our young vaccinated, we have a real good chance at revisiting this and potentially going a different direction,” Dr. Paul Beaupre said.

St. John’s Health interim CEO Dave Robertson provided an about the current state of affairs at the hospital.

“We are not seeing a significant decline in our hospitalizations. We are seeing far fewer admissions from Teton County than we did early on as our vaccination rate has hit the 80% mark. The vast majority of our hospitalizations are coming from the surrounding counties where the vaccination rate is much lower, particularly Sublette County,” he said.

“We have 11 designated covid beds where we have set up negative pressure in those rooms. today all 11 of those beds are in use. Which has been pretty much the norm for the past several weeks,” Robertson said. Adding, “That’s 25% of our inpatient beds.”

Robertson also shared staffing concerns.

While avoiding specifics about St. John’s, he said, “Staffing is increasingly becoming the limiting factor for us. In a lot of health care specialties like RN’s, areas in the country that are in extremely short supply are paying wages as much as $10,000 per week. That’s half a million dollars a year for individuals in key specialty areas. It’s creating a huge maldistribution problem in health care workers across the country.”

Riddell and Buepre echoed the sentiment that this winter we will likely experience less of a surge compared to last winter. “Most of the pandemic modeling out there is not predicting another big winter surge,” Riddell said.

The current mask mandate was issued by the Board of County Commissioners on Aug. 26. Commissioner Mark Barron and Greg Epstein voted against extending the mask mandate.

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