Town bans large public gatherings to slow spread of coronavirus

JACKSON, Wyo. — Town councilors admitted they are taking drastic measures with little time to iron out details as they unanimously passed an emergency ordinance that would ban large public gatherings in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The ordinance prohibits gatherings of 100 people or more in any confined space, including restaurants and bars. Gatherings do not have to be intentional, meaning restaurants and bars could not contain more than 100 people at a time under the same roof including employees. There was an added stipulation for indoor spaces that clarifies gatherings can not be larger than 100 people, or half the space’s capacity, whichever number is larger.

But there would be exceptions — for events and venues that could provide guests enough space to “accommodate social distancing” (six feet apart), that have ample hygiene like soap and hand sanitizer available, and that clean surfaces with disinfectant before, during, and after the event.

Chief of Police Todd Smith said his department would be hard-pressed to make nuanced decisions the ordinance calls for, like exact distances people are maintaining between each other and how often staff is polishing down table surfaces.

“We have two or three officers on each night so I don’t know we would be able to do that,” Smith said.

But Mayor Pete Muldoon admitted much of the ordinance was less about enforcement and more about urging business and patrons themselves to do the right thing in light of a public health emergency. It seems, judging from public comment, that the business community is already onboard with self-mitigating measures.

In the middle of the meeting, Teton County Emergency Management Coordinator Rich Ochs delivered very recent news: local churches have decided to suspend public worship for the time being. Some churches will try to hold teleconference worship. The news suggests that many of the precautions town councilors are trying to mandate are already happening in good faith.

Local restaurateur Gavin Fine agreed, and said that his Fine Dining properties are already taking a lot of preventative measures.

It was Jim Waldrop, General Manager of the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and The Wort Hotel, who voiced the biggest concern. He would “deal with” whatever decision the councilors made, but said such restrictions would have huge impacts on his business. Limiting admission at the Cowboy Bar to 100 people would “likely close the Cowboy Bar, and there are a lot of employees there,” he said.

Waldrop asked councilors to instead consider restrictions based on density rather than total occupancy.

After a short break to rewrite portions of the ordinance and to also consider a proclamation instead, town attorney Lea Colasuonno came back with a version suitable to all, with two councilors voicing some hesitancy.

“We’re in completely uncharted waters. I am deeply uncomfortable about the speed of drawing this up,” councilman Jonathan Schechter worried over the pace of the lawmaking, preferring to wait another 48 hours until Monday to craft a better piece of lawmaking. “It will not be exactly right, I recognize that… It’s not going to get perfect, but it could get better.”

Councilman Arne Jorgensen preferred to tweak language in order to accommodate larger square footage buildings like the Cowboy Bar and balance that with occupancy. Ultimately, the impracticality of making square footage measurements on usable space for each Jackson establishment proved too daunting.

“When in doubt, shut it down,” Stanford added before the vote.

“I want to err on the side of caution and take the long view here,” Muldoon said before calling for a vote some four hours after the emergency meeting was called to order. “I wish we did have more time but we don’t. I’ve been thinking about little else since Monday. We need to prepare ourselves for making these decisions because they are going to come at us fast and quickly. We need to be able to make the best decisions we can in a stressful situation. We will not always have the luxury of time.”

The ordinance passed on a 5-0 vote.

This story will be updated with more precise ordinance language when it is available. 

About The Author

Buckrail @ Shannon

Shannon is a Wyoming-raised writer and reporter pursuing a master's in journalism at Boston University. Jackson shaped her into an outdoorswoman, but a love for language and the human condition compels her to write. She believes there's no story too small to tell nor adventure too small to take.

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