COVID community update: ‘Stabilization’ doesn’t mean mean we’re in the clear

JACKSON, Wyo. — Health orders and recommendations are easing, but now is not the time to let our guard down, officials said at a community update Friday afternoon.

“Do not become complacent with hygiene and physical distancing measures, as they are working,” said Rachel Wheeler, public health response coordinator for the Teton County Health Department.

“The end of ‘shelter-at-home’ does not mean the pandemic is over,” Teton Health Officer Travis Riddell echoed. “It means there is currently room for you in St. John’s ICU.”

St. John’s Health CEO Paul Beaupré said public health measures were always intended to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed, and in Teton County, such measures have overwhelmingly worked.

“This week and the week before were the weeks that some models said would be the big surge in Wyoming,” Beaupré said. “I don’t think those models were wrong; I think the sacrifices all of you have made, have made a remarkable difference in where we are today versus where we were predicted to be.

There are currently zero COVID patients in the hospital. Two patients who were transferred to regional hospitals within the last several weeks remain on ventilators.

As long as St. John’s has the capacity to care for patients, which it currently has in abundance, Teton County can move forward with that they’re calling the “stabilization” phase of the COVID-19 response. St. John’s is moving forward elective procedures on patients who test negative for COVID-19. Certain businesses can begin reopening Monday under stringent conditions. The stabilization phase is expected to last 10-14 weeks.

Riddell also announced a new contact tracing app, called COVID Safe Paths, is now available for download on Apple and Google. The Health Department has been following the app closely for several weeks now, and Riddell said it could play an important role in contact tracing. It would allow users to log their locations privately unless/until they are diagnosed with COVID-19, at which point the Health Department would ask the user to voluntarily share their data so that Public Health could create a digital record of where the virus may have traveled.

The Health Department has also received the results from a second sample of wastewater sent to MIT April 21. The viral copies of COVID-19 more than double since the first sample was sent April 14. These numbers are important to understand how the virus is trending, Riddell said. The study’s future in Teton County is unstable, as the samples are being processed by a “spin-off startup” of MIT that plans to increase its fees ten-fold starting in June.

“We’re hoping to find another vendor or way to work with this vendor,” Riddell said.

As far as Teton County’s economy goes, Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce President Anna Olsen said much is still unknown. The task now is to work together as a business community to keep the community safe and financially solvent. Olsen reminded business owners that the Chamber and the Economic Recovery Task Force are there to help.

“Other people are going through this. The unknown can be exhausting; I implore you to reach out,” Olsen said.

One22 Director Sharel Lund reminded the community that while parts of the county are emerging from the “emergency” phase into stabilization, “it’s important to recognize that many will remain in an emergency phase until they’re safely back to work full-time. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen quickly.”

One22 has amped up its community support to unprecedented levels recently. The nonprofit worked with 20 times more people in just eight weeks than they usually do in a calendar year. It has provided financial assistance to 2,259 discreet households representing more than 4,000 individuals.

But “philanthropy alone” will not be enough to keep everyone afloat, Lund said. It will take community-wide relief and recognition for families to be able to continue to pay rent and put food on the table.

“Our goal is to work collectively [with the community] to keep families in their current housing, with access to food and medicine,” Lund said.

While many public health orders and recommendations are easing and will expire May 15, the recommendation to wear a mask in public is as important as ever, Riddell said.

“It shows you’re thinking about the people around you and taking steps to protect them,” Riddell said. “Wearing a mask is an act of kindness.”

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