COVID Community Update: testing event ‘beyond wildest dreams’

JACKSON, Wyo. — A community-wide COVID-19 testing event at the Teton County Fairgrounds yesterday was “beyond our wildest dreams,” said Teton County Health Department Director Jodie Pond.

At the 10th weekly community update Friday afternoon, Pond said the Health Department expected around 300 people would show up and get tested for COVID-10. Instead, 1,355 people came in their cars. Of those, 462 used vouchers provided by the Health Department.

Tests have been sent to the Wyoming Department of Health lab.

Teton County is working on ways to randomly test asymptomatic people at random throughout the summer. Pond said the Health Department is recruiting businesses and organizations that make frequent contact with the public to sign up to have employees tested at St. John’s Health or Emerg-A-Care.

Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell shared the “good news” that Teton County has “very very much flattened the curve.” Its most recent confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported May 14, two weeks ago. Tests have also increased over the last five-six weeks, and fewer of those tests have come back positive.

That’s all good news, Riddell said, and it was enough to convince him that variance to the newest statewide health order will not be necessary.

Still, the virus is “still very much present among us,” St. John’s Health CEO Paul Beaupré reminded listeners. “It will be present until we have a mass-produced vaccine.”

Beaupré re-emphasized the importance of wearing face coverings in public. Up to 80% of people infected with COVID are asymptomatic, he said. “If they sneeze, they will release 200 million viral particles into the atmosphere. If you are standing there when they sneeze, you will probably get COVID. That’s why we believe so strongly in masking. Masking prevents transmission of those particles.”

Both Riddell and Beupré acknowledged how polarizing masks have become as a symbol of freedom or care, depending on which side you stand. Beaupré made a “simple prayer: that St. John’s will never have to care for anybody who has been beaten stabbed, or shot due to a decision to wear masks or not wear masks. Let’s keep it civil.”

On a brighter note, St. John’s has tested roughly a quarter of its staff for COVID-19 and not a single one has been positive.

Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Anna Olson and Jackon Hole Travel and Tourism Board executive director Kate Sollitt (disclosure: Sollitt’s daughter is a staff reporter at Buckrail) each offered business and tourism-related updates. While air traffic has increased slightly around Memorial Day, Olson said airlines will begin to “feather in service” July 7.

From a tourism perspective, Sollitt said research suggests that COVID-19 reshape the way many people travel, and Jackson could well be a beneficiary. A survey found that half of Americans plan to travel this summer, but will avoid big cities. They want to visit the great outdoors. But they also want to feel safe.

“The need for adventure is strong, but the need for safety is strong, too,” Sollitt said. Her job, then, is to build confidence among visitors and the community that Jackson is a safe place. The TTB’s new campaign is built on three pillars: “Clean, careful, connected.” Local businesses can display “Responsibly Wild” badges and “Clean, careful, connected” posters if they are practicing good hygiene and safety procedures.

Finally, Grand Teton National Park expects to have statistical information about visitation so far by the end of next week. Memorial Day visitation was almost as high as last year.

The Gros Ventre campground opened today, and some secondary roads are becoming accessible as snow melts. Boat access is expected to open June 5. GTNP Public Affairs Officer Denise Germann said visitors are encouraged to call the park to register your watercraft.

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