JACKSON — Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell is planning to issue a countywide mask mandate effective Thursday.
If implemented, face coverings would be required in “certain places, with exceptions,” beginning at noon Thursday and lasting for at least 10 days. The Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners could vote to expand the mandate beyond Sept. 4.
Riddell announced the proposed order Tuesday to give 48 hours for public comment.
That’s a new procedure required by Wyoming Statute 35-1-310(a), which mandates that “no public health order requested or issued by a ... district health officer ... shall become effective without notice being provided to the public not less than forty-eight (48) hours before the order is to become effective and opportunity to provide public comment through written and electronic submissions is provided.”
Riddell will review comments with State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist before making a final decision on the public health order. Teton County commissioners will also have access to all public comments sent to that address.
“We have been monitoring the local COVID-19 situation closely,” Riddell told the Jackson Hole Daily. “The continuing increase in cases, hospitalization and significant breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated individuals are all concerning. It’s time to return to a multi-layered approach in order to protect the most vulnerable in our community.”
Since July, the majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations at St. John’s Health have come from unvaccinated visitors and regional residents. Breakthrough cases, meaning patients who were vaccinated but still contracted the virus, made up roughly 20 percent of those hospitalizations.
According to Riddell’s draft health order, #21-5, face coverings must be worn in all businesses open to the public, all health care operations and while riding in public transportation, including taxis, tours and ride-share vehicles.
All K-12 schools, private and public, must require masking of students, teachers, staff and visitors only when 6 feet of separation cannot be maintained. Per the order, people engaged in “athletic activities or performances” are exempted, as are people protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Such a mandate would trump any decision made Wednesday by the Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees, though only for 10 days. After that, it would come down to a county commissioners’ vote.
If the order goes into effect, all businesses, county and municipal buildings open to the public must post written notice stating face coverings are required.
Similar to the school requirement, masking would specifically be necessary when people cannot maintain 6 feet of distance.
Face coverings would not be required in restaurants, coffee shops or bars once patrons have been seated.
Masking would also not be necessary for those with a medical exemption. Per the order “a person is not required to provide any documentation demonstrating that the person cannot wear a Face Covering for any medical condition, mental health condition or disability.”
There are further exemptions outlined in the proposed public health order.
If the county risk for COVID-19 transmission drops to low or moderate, the requirements of the order would be “temporarily suspended.”
Previously, such mandates have been difficult to enforce, but the order does state that any business or person who violates the conditions may be subject to criminal prosecution.
The mask proposal comes as active cases and hospitalizations are rising in Teton County and throughout the state, which reported 2,949 active cases Tuesday, an increase of 167 from Monday. Teton County reported 144 active infections Tuesday, down five from Monday.