JACKSON, Wyo. — A new app could help the Health Department with contact tracing.

The app, called “COVID Safe Paths,” would allow individuals to privately log their location data until or unless they are diagnosed with COVID-19, at which point they could opt to share their data with public health. Public Health could then use the data to build a digital record of locations where COVID-19 may have been passed to others.

The app is being developed in the MIT Media Lab.

At the community update meeting Friday afternoon, County Health Officer Travis Riddell said the Health Department is in the “early stages of evaluating feasibility,” but he is “very certain using this app will protect citizens’ privacy.” Data will remain on the users’ phone and completely private until and unless they choose to share it.

Riddell said he anticipates a phased introduction in the next few weeks.

In poop news: Riddell said the first sample of Teton County wastewater, taken April 14 sent to MIT, has been processed and evaluated for COVID-19.

The sample contained “a little over 12,000 copies of the virus,” Ridell said. According to MIT’s algorithm, which should be taken with a lot of caution as it is in its “very very early stage,” that translates to roughly 80 active cases on April 14. Teton County had 31 confirmed cases at that time.

“It will remain to be seen how accurate that number is,” Riddell said. “The big benefit of this technology is in allowing us to track trends over time. It can be an early warning system to realize when we may be seeing a potential uptick.”

Also at Friday’s community update, Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith asked shed hunters to stay home this year. JPD is running a country-wide campaign spreading the message to stay home.

“I’m a hunter, I know how popular it is,” Smith said. “If you’re out there and you’re listening and you’re planning on attending, we’re asking you. Please sit this one out.”

Still, Smith said the Jackson Police Department is anticipating an influx of some size between April 29 and May 1. He advised that locals may want to plan ahead and plan to stay home.

Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr warned the public about COVID-related scams going around. If something feels fishy, it probably is.

“Please don’t hesitate to contact law enforcement,” Carr said.

The big unknown remains if and when public health orders will ease and businesses can begin to reopen. State and county public health orders are set to expire May 1, but Riddell said he is certain new orders will replace them.

“Decisions on timing will be made based on data and based on science, and the consensus of decision-makers locally and at a state level,” Riddell said. “There is no role for political pressure here.

The Health Department now has the capacity to test anyone with symptoms, Director Jodie Pond said. The increased capacity will likely mean the number of “probable” cases will start to plateau, but the number of confirmed cases will see another spike.

Speaking of tests. St. John’s Health has made a decision about antibody testing. CEO Paul Beaupré announced Friday that the hospital will move forward with the testing platform release by Abbott Laboratories. The test will be used to study front-line healthcare workers and first responders.

The testing platform was recommended by St. John’s Health’s advisory panel “based on its credible, publicly available validation data from a well-credentialed source, the secure availability of lab testing supplies, and our ability to perform rapid, reliable, high-volume test processing at St. John’s,” Beaupré said in a written update from St. John’s.

Beaupré reminded the public that antibody testing does not diagnose COVID-19, and test results should not alter behavior.

“It is critical at this time that you do not rely on antibody testing to relax your compliance with the hygiene and physical distancing guidelines and orders,” Beupré said. “If you have been reading about new local antibody testing options and have questions about their value, I implore you to become educated about their risks and limitations.”

The next step is for St. John’s to find a reliable medical university with a strong epidemiology and immunology department with which to partner. Beaupré anticipates starting the antibody program “in the next couple of weeks,” he said Friday.

The meeting concluded with the presentation of a short video made by Jackson Hole High Schol Media Arts students. The video asks each student to name the person for whom they are staying home — grandparents, siblings, healthcare workers.

“You don’t do it for yourself; you do it for others,” one student said.

It was the same sentiment shared by Mayor Pete Muldoon as the meeting wrapped up.

“You’re not doing this for yourself,” Muldoon echoed. “With freedom comes responsibility. This is a responsibility that all of us have to keep the community safe.”

Buckrail @ Shannon

Shannon is a Wyoming-raised writer and reporter. She just completed a master's in journalism from Boston University. Jackson shaped her into an outdoorswoman, but a love for language and the human condition compels her to write. She believes there's no story too small to tell nor adventure too small to take.