What the town voted concerning masks, and a first look at the health order

JACKSON, Wyo. – A hastily-convened special meeting of the town council Monday morning was made at the request of Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell who wrote the council Saturday afternoon: “I respectfully request that the Jackson Town Council quickly consider a resolution in support of a countywide Public Health Order mandating mask usage.”

“I have determined that a countywide face covering mandate is now necessary for the protection of the public’s health,” Riddell told the council. “Current public health metrics are indicating resurgence of COVID-19 in Teton County. Our business community and resort economy simply cannot endure a return to High Risk (Red) level without suffering catastrophic economic damage. We need an expedient solution. A mandatory mask regulation provides us with one we could implement immediately. Our community cannot afford to ‘wait and see.'”

Riddell has drafted an order (read below) he hopes is approved as a variance for Teton County to statewide health orders in place.

At the meeting Monday, Mayor Pete Muldoon started things off by assuring, “[This] is not an order or an ordinance requiring a face mask.” The decision made by the council Monday—a resolution passed unanimously—pledges to back whatever mask mandate order Riddell draws up.

Businesses ask for the mask

Proponents of face coverings in Jackson Hole present a two-fold argument. In addition to public health safety, a mask order or resolution would allow the town to send a unified message regarding what is expected of visitors and those out in public spaces as COVID cases begin to spike with an increase in tourism.

As executive director of Teton Village Association Melissa Turley pointed out, even half of Jackson Hole’s usual tourism numbers amount to some two million visitors. “A resolution would help provide consistency and public safety,” she said.

Jackson Trading Company owner Sean Love echoed the need to protect his frontline employees from disease and derision as some customers—as many as 10-15 a day—have displayed what Love called “negative aggressive interactions.”

Love also noted a sharp uptick in business. June started slowly, picked up in mid-month and last week outpaced even last year’s record numbers.

“We are definitely seeing the traffic now. They are here,” Love said. “And I need to protect my employees’ health as well as from physical violence.”

Other business owners like Brianna Moteberg (Altitude), Wes Gardner (Teton Toys), and Arcy Hawks (Habits) have made masks mandatory and/or have reported too many negative incidents for their comfort.

As for the messaging, marketing chair of the Travel & Tourism Board Brian Modena told the council that pretty much the entire destination relaunch campaign (some $450,000) is dedicated to promoting an educational and safety message through the framework of ‘clean, careful, connected’ marketing campaign.

“What our campaign is lacking is a unified and clear message for the entire business community,” Modena said. He promised a ten-fold increase in effectiveness if the council could get behind a resolution that would send a clear and unified message.

Finally, during Monday’s meeting, Chamber of Commerce president Anna Olson shared new data from a 160-respondent member survey which indicated, for the most part, local businesses were seeking guidance.

About 84% said they are requiring their employees to wear face coverings. Some 42% are suggesting their customers also wear PPE, 21% are requiring it, 21% are neither requiring or requesting. A majority (67%) of retailers and merchants contacted said they would support an order requiring PPEs.

With any order or mandate would naturally come compliance and enforcement. Police Chief Todd Smith said he, too, felt a requirement for masks in public was overdue from a public health standpoint. He anticipated it would be something his department could use should conflict arise over the use of masks.

As far as enforcement, Smith also expressed some concern that given the current state of affairs regarding policing in general there could be some criticism.

“I do foresee conflict between law enforcement and some of these folks that have been angry and could become violent. Some [businesses] may need to hire security,” Smith said. “If we need to take enforcement action, we need to know we are supported.”

How they voted

Arne Jorgensen said he’s looked at all sides and all arguments concerning the use of PPE and could make the findings that requiring the use of masks in public was simply the right and prudent thing to do.

“This is about being kind; to ourselves and each other. To our businesses and our community,” Jorgensen said. “This is something that is critically important and something that should not be incredibly difficult.”

Jorgensen added that enforcement expectations would be minimal as far as he was concerned. No police looking for non-compliance but, rather, a tool for law enforcement should a customer of a local retailer become rude or aggressive.

Jorgensen also wanted to remind concerned citizens that any health decisions were not made by any one individual and certainly not solely the town council. “There is a process that is taking place,” he said, referring to county health orders and variances that are then checked with the state public health professionals.

Finally, Jorgensen addressed the political nature of face coverings and how the use of PPEs have been ‘weaponized’ by some to be more than just public health safety measures.

“[One] extreme is the one suggesting this is an infringement on constitutionality and freedom of choice. There’s a mechanism to determine that. It’s called the courts. If you feel strongly about that there is an opportunity for that,” Jorgensen said. “We’ve heard you. We’ve heard you loudly and clearly. We received many emails, although a minority in terms of numbers, that feel that very strongly. The fact I am making this vote does not mean you haven’t been heard.”

Jonathan Schechter called the stories of employee abuse by insolent customers “inexcusable and abhorrent,” and wanted to give those in the service industry frontlines some protections. He also emphasized the messaging aspect of the resolution.

“This is not fundamentally a legal issue. It would be impossible for us, even if we had a bottomless well of resources to effectively to enforce this,” Schechter said. “This is a messaging issue. The real test of its success is how well we as a community can get out a unified message.”

Hailey Morton Levinson agreed.

“It’s about messaging. Making it a unified message for the community,” she said. “Relying on the science that we know to keep each other as healthy as we can be. I’ll gladly support this and continue to wear my mask when I’m in public places.”

Jim Stanford called a face covering mandate overdue. He also questioned the large number of people in his age group who suddenly claim a face mask compromises their health in some way, and took exception to any argument that a PPE was a burdensome ‘ask’ in the name of public health.

“I’ve had citizens pleading with me for us to take this action for weeks now. Pleading,” Stanford said. “I’m hopeful the county will finally follow through on it for us.”

Muldoon reminded that healthcare professionals are calling the shots, not the council itself. Of the tools available to slow the spread of the virus, mask-wearing is among the few easier things the community can do, Muldoon said.

“It is a sign of kindness, not a political statement. If [masks] become political it is not politics that are broken, it is us,” Muldoon said. “It’s an inconvenience. No doubt about that. But we should all have a healthy fear of this disease. If we don’t, we should recognize others do.”

Read Dr. Travis Riddell’s first draft of the health order requiring all people of Teton County and Jackson to wear face coverings in public places.

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