woman in black cardigan wearing white mask
Masks will stay on until at least Feb. 9, the school board ruled. Photo: Kelly Sikkema

JACKSON, Wyo. — The Teton County Board of Trustees voted last evening, Jan. 12, to reinstate the mask requirements for students, teachers and visitors at all Teton County School District schools until Jan. 26 when the board plans to reevaluate.

The Board previously opted to follow Teton County Health orders for mask requirements at schools. Masks were optional when students returned to school on Jan. 3.

Superintendent Dr. Gillian Chapman briefed the board on the current COVID situation within the school district during last night’s meeting.

“Our school district is doing the very best we can under extremely difficult times. We are not unique in the world. every school district in the country and across the world is experiencing the same kinds of challenges we are,” she said.

Chapman shared absentee data. “Normally our student absences are averaging 6-8% for the past eight days we’ve been averaging 18-20% for student absences and while that is high I also look at it the other direction, we have 80% of our kids in school. 80% is so much better than 0%, Chapman said.

In terms of staff absentees, the normal average is about 6%. In the last eight days, staff absences have increased to 10% explained Chapman. She also noted that not all the absences are COVID-related.

The district has also implemented a “test to stay” program, in which students who are unvaccinated and have been exposed to a COVID positive individual are tested in the morning prior to entering school.  “11% of those tested are positive, students are invited back to make sure it’s not a false positive, students that come back are validated as positive via another test,” Chapman said.

Cue tests are also being used for symptomatic individuals. The molecular tests provide results in about 20 minutes. According to Chapman, approximately 20% of those tested with Cue tests are positive.

“As of yesterday we tested 431 individuals with the Cue tests and 191 tests to stay tests,” Chapman said.

Teton County Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell was also invited to the meeting last evening.

“I understand that is a very fraught conversation,” Riddell said. “My children who attend school continue to wear masks at school and indoor spaces but masks alone are not going to end this pandemic”

Riddell urged vaccination for all students. “As of this week, 698 5-11-year-olds are fully vaccinated, which accounts for about 43% of the age group,” Riddell said.

“Data suggest that staff-to-staff transmission is more common in schools than transmission from student to staff, staff to student, or student to student. That said, I do believe there are substantial reasons to require masks in schools from an education perspective, Riddell said. “In-person learning is far superior to virtual learning.”

Jodie Pond from the Teton County Health Department also spoke during the meeting sharing data on positive cases from the week of Dec. 25 through Dec. 31 compared to Jan. 1 through Jan. 7 when students returned to school. “School-aged children testing positive for covid increased by 320%,” Pond said.

Dr. Paul Beaupre was also in attendance. He said, “The glimmer of hope that I continue to follow is if you look at the countries ahead of us in this surge with omicron, it spiked very quickly and is dissipating very fast. I remain hopeful that by early February or mid-February we will be in a much better position than we are now.”

The Board voted unanimously to require masks at least until their next meeting on Jan. 26.

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.