JACKSON, Wyo. — Teton County’s efforts at physical distancing have been very successful. Although the recent testing event was a self-selected group and not a perfect, random slice of the community, the results are promising and imply that we have crushed the curve.

However, Jackson Hole is an international vacation destination, drawing visitors from all over the country and the world. As we move forward through risk level orange and eventually into the yellow (which likely won’t be for another month or more), it is important to remember that COVID-19 still poses a significant risk to the community.

The Teton County Health Department’s message is no longer “stay home, save lives,” but rather, to consider the risk levels of various activities, evaluate what makes sense for you and take reasonable precautions.

Of course, there are health orders to follow and local recommendations to heed, but moving forward, most decisions around COVID-19 exposure and risk are up to individuals and will look different from person to person and family to family.

Loose guidelines can be difficult for those who prefer straight-forward rules or regulations. With this in mind, and with the knowledge that COVID-19 is far from over in this country, the Health Department wants to shed some light on decision making and risk mitigation.

The Health Department wants you to spend time outside, engage in meaningful social interactions with your friends and family, celebrate milestones and support local businesses. When making decisions about activities, consider both the risk and the reward. If the reward is high for you, make your decision, and mitigate as much risk as you can.

Some things to keep in mind: outside is better than inside. Contact tracing from hotspots in other states has shown that even a very large indoor space (like a church), does not inhibit the transfer of the virus.

In addition, if an air conditioner or fan is blowing virus particles in a particular direction, it can move far past the six feet suggestion of physical distancing. Being outside allows for significant dissipation of particles if there is a positive case in the area.

The smaller the group, the fewer people that can contract the virus if there is a positive individual present. Were you invited to a birthday party? How many people are going? The smaller the group, the safer the event.

The more each individual considers the risks in every situation, the more safe we will all be. Invited to a graduation party? Are the other invitees all people that you know, and do you know if they have been taking reasonable precautions? That is an entirely different situation than a conference of strangers.

Here are highlights to consider:

  1. Outside is better than inside.
  2. A smaller group is better than a bigger group.
  3. It’s safer to be around people whose habits you know.
  4. Your own home and your own car are safer than other people’s homes or carpooling.
  5. Washing hands, hand sanitizing and good personal hygiene is of the utmost importance.
  6. Avoid anything that many people have touched.
  7. Wearing a cloth face covering protects others from you. If everyone does it, everyone is protected.
  8. Infection = exposure x time. Thirty seconds in a port-o-potty is likely to be less risky than two hours in a restaurant.

The other thing to consider is that everyone’s situation is different. If you are a 30-year old with no pre-existing medical conditions, no one in your life is high-risk and you live alone, then your risk tolerance is likely higher than someone with young children or a family member or housemate with a pre-existing condition.

An ER nurse in a COVID-19 hotspot is likely to be more strict with their movements and actions than someone who has never interacted with a positive COVID-19 case. You know what’s best for you based on your individual experience.

Here’s an example of risk evaluation/mitigation: You want to have a birthday party for your child.

  1. Have it outside. Remember, outside is better than inside.
  2. Invite only their best friends (and hopefully don’t hurt any feelings in the process). Keeping the group smaller is better than inviting 60 children.
  3. In this small group, these are children and parents you know well. You know what they’ve been up to in the past two weeks and it’s nothing you wouldn’t do.
  4. Make sure that hand-washing and hand sanitizer are readily available.
  5. Have everyone bring their own food, or if you serve food, have it be individualized, pre-wrapped or served by one person. Avoid family style or leaving food out on tables to be touched by many people.
  6. Ask people to wear masks for the entire party, or at least when they go inside to use the bathroom.