COVID Crunch: Recent surge leaves local industries in a bind

JACKSON, Wyo. — An already short-staffed valley is facing the impacts of employee absences as COVID surges in Teton County.

Not one industry in town has been immune to the effects of COVID during this time of high community transmission. The repercussions are widespread; from schools and restaurants to emergency services and just about every workplace in between.

While the region is no stranger to staffing issues, this new and highly contagious omicron variant has forced employees to stay home and quarantine while their workplaces grapple with the demands of the winter season.

For Fire Chief Brady Hansen, recent weeks have been a struggle with half of Jackson Hole Fire/ EMS staff being sick at home. He explained that with such high community spread at hand, JH Fire/EMS employees are being asked to stay home if they are showing just minor symptoms.

“[If you test positive], you have to leave/not come to work, take sick leave, even with minor symptoms,” said Hansen.

But at Jackson Hole Fire/ EMS, it’s not an easy finding coverage. Put simply, in emergency services if a replacement doesn’t come to relieve an employee, they can’t leave the workplace unstaffed.

“[We’re] getting through it, it’s getting folks bad,” said Hansen. “[It’s been] a challenge to keep up our staffing.”

During last week’s storm cycle, the town announced that its Snowplow Street Division is operating with a short staff. At the time, the 11 member team had only eight staff members available.

“Please be patient, expect that the Town will not be plowed as quickly as it has been in the past and that some areas may not be plowed within 24 hours following storms,” said the Town in the press release.

Meanwhile, in Teton County School District #1 (TCSD) schools, both staff and student absences have increased significantly since the new year.

On Dec. 16, prior to the holiday break, TCSD reported 35 staff absences, 27 covid-related student absences and 214 non-COVID student absences. After the holiday break on Jan. 6, TCSD recorded 52 staff absences, 207 covid-related student absences, and 376 non-COVID student absences. They did not release data that specifies COVID-related staff absences.

Charlotte Reynolds, who serves as TCSD’s executive director of communications and district services said this uptick in absences after a holiday is nothing out of the ordinary. However, TCSD statistics show a striking 6.44% increase in COVID-related absences among students.

Additionally, several restaurants in the valley have been forced to close their doors temporarily or modify operations. In town, Thai Me Up, Healthy Being Café and Juicery had to press pause while staff members were out sick. In the Village, Teton Thai has switched to a take-out-only system to protect the community and its employees.

Currently, there are 618 active COVID-19 cases in Teton County.

“We expect cases to continue to increase and stay high for multiple weeks based on modeling and experiences from other areas in the United States that are also dealing with an Omicron surge,” stated the Teton County Health Department.  “Though we have not received a lab-confirmed result, the Teton County Health Department believes we are in the midst of an Omicron surge in our community.

About The Author

Buckrail @ Caroline

Caroline Chapman is a Community News Reporter. She enjoys reading non-fiction, skiing, hiking, and playing piano in her downtime. Her favorite aspect about living in Jackson is the genuine admiration that Wyomingites share for the land and the life that it sustains.

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