Moe's Original BBQ has decided to close its doors. Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

JACKSON, Wyo. — A video circulated around the community last week showing a crowded Moe’s BBQ with maskless individuals packed into booths and filling up the bar, disregarding Teton County public health orders.

Under normal circumstances, this would not be a shocking scene. Ski towns like Jackson are known for their nightlife and, for people that live here, that nightlife might also be a way of life.

Meanwhile, the Town of Jackson created a higher level on the COVID-19 scale to describe the current situation in the community. Jackson is now in the critical level, purple, with 259 active cases in the county, and two confirmed cases of the 50% to 75% more contagious, B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant.

During the 24th COVID-19 Community Update on Friday, Jan. 22, Teton County Health Officer, Dr. Travis Riddell spoke about the variant, and the complications involved in deciphering the new strain. He said, “We have to assume it will continue to spread here, if you have covid you should assume it’s the more contagious strain and you should take actions to try to prevent that spread.”

The video of the party at Moe’s landed on the desks of Teton County Health Department Director Jodi Pond, Jackson Police Chief Michelle Weber, as well as Jackson town council members. The video poses the ongoing question, “What happens when businesses or individuals ignore health orders?”

Jodi Pond explained the Health Department’s handling of complaints and violations of health orders during the last COVID-19 Community Update. Pond said, “If we receive a complaint—which we recently did, we were given a video of a party, and it was very clear that the public health orders were not being followed—we then log those and work very closely, our staff works with the sheriff’s office and the police department —depending on where the establishment is—and usually it just takes a little education. But in some cases, people are repeat offenders. I believe in this case it will be escalated, but we do take every complaint seriously and log those with law enforcement.” 

Police Chief Michelle Weber described the department’s policy on handling these types of situations, noting Moe’s is not the only business the department has had to address. Weber described how a sergeant met with the managers and owners of Moe’s directly, following the video’s release. “We try so hard to educate and get people to understand, we don’t want businesses to close down, and I don’t think any of us want that. We want people to get better and we don’t want people to get sick. For all kinds of reasons, we are asking people to follow the rules,” she said, adding, “Most of the time it works, obviously sometimes we have to go back a couple of times. Hopefully, we don’t have to go back to Moe’s” 

Chief Weber also described how law enforcement will handle cases when education is not enough to make businesses comply. “Up to this point, law enforcement has addressed the violations on a case-by-case basis and has used the complaints as an opportunity to educate businesses—and in some circumstances customers—on the public health order. Because we are not getting the compliance with some businesses, in particular, we are now considering issuing citations to those establishments who continue to refuse to comply with those public health orders that are in place.”

Yesterday, Jan. 21, Teton County announced additional local public health order variances to the statewide health orders in effect through Feb. 14. The variances include changes to capacities at indoor and outdoor events, group fitness class size limitations, and that bars and restaurants will close for on-premises consumption between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. Chief Weber said that the police department has been conducting walk-throughs of businesses during the evenings. Prior to the new health orders, “most businesses are shutting down at 10 anyway,” she said.

Multiple attempts were made to contact the owner of Moe’s for comment. 

Officials in Teton County have chosen the routes of education, recommendations, and county-wide health orders, but there is no playbook. The pandemic has created a unique situation that is playing out in real-time—a virus that passes unseen from person to person, in which individuals’ lifestyles and decision-making can impact the community as a whole.

Jackson Councilmember Jonathan Schechter weighed in on the situation, calling it an “awful mess.” He said, “All of us are basically coming to a point of fear, for some people, it’s a fear of losing their job, for other people it’s the fear of losing their business, for others, it’s the fear of getting sick, for others, it’s the fear of losing their country as they understand it,” adding, “When you have a lot of pressure and you have a lot of fear it leads to suboptimal decision making.”

One thing is clear, as Jonathan Schechter said, “Teton County will only be as healthy as the community chooses to be, together.” 

Buckrail @ Lindsay

Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.