Dr. Travis Riddell wants to reiterate how important it is to wear face masks.
The Teton District health officer has updated his recommendation on mask wearing, replacing an earlier version with one that further outlines current research. The current recommendation updates the situations in which people should wear masks, or “face coverings.”
“It’s fantastic to see things coming back to life in town,” Riddell said at the May 29 community update. “Of course, that does come with some risk, and I think that’s where we have to continue to be vigilant.”
Many of the times to wear a mask will be familiar. Riddell recommends that people wear them in grocery stores, at the doctor’s office and in other public situations in which social distancing cannot be maintained.
His recommendation also says businesses should encourage customers and employees to wear them when interacting. People are asked to wear masks if they use public transportation.
Riddell clarifies situations in which people do not need to wear masks. Folks who have returned to work don’t need to wear them when they are alone in their offices, and people don’t need to mask up when they are interacting with people in their immediate family, when they are driving alone in their personal cars or when they are seated at a restaurant with proper social distancing.
Part of Riddell’s hope in revising the recommendation is to share more information on the efficacy of masks. Arguments against wearing cloth face coverings often hinge on the fact that such masks can’t stop all viral particles because the weave of the cloth is too large.
While that is true, cloth face coverings that shield both the nose and mouth have been shown to diminish the number of viral particles infected people exhale. Recent studies show that cloth masks have a total filtration effect of about 50% to 70%. That reduction in airborne viral particles lowers the amount of viral shedding when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes, thereby reducing the potential for them to spread the virus.
St. John’s Health CEO Dr. Paul Beaupre also talked about masks at the last community update, saying asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 could exhale 200 million viral particles should they sneeze because of an allergy.
“So if you’re standing in front of that person for the time that they sneeze, you probably will get COVID,” he said. “So this is one of the reasons why we believe so strongly in masking: Masking prevents the transmission of most of those particles.”
Research Riddell cites in the recommendation from Italy and China found that somewhere between 50% and 80% of carriers are asymptomatic. That means those people could inadvertently spread the disease if they don’t wear masks.
Wearing masks, Riddell has argued, is important to maintain the progress the community has made against the virus. The community COVID dashboard reports that the last lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 in Teton County was May 16. That means Teton County has gone 23 days with no reports of new positives. The dashboard also reported zero active cases Monday.
For much of the pandemic, Teton County was one of the hardest-hit counties in Wyoming. But the dearth of cases over the past few weeks means places like Natrona County, which reported five new cases Monday, have moved ahead in total lab-confirmed positives.
The Wyoming Department of Health, in its daily coronavirus update, reported a total of 14 new cases Monday in Campbell, Fremont, Hot Springs, Natrona, Sweetwater and Uinta counties.
Though Teton County has effectively flattened its curve, Beaupre warned that the virus hasn’t magically disappeared. Tourism numbers are rising and because other communities are still seeing active cases, it is almost inevitable COVID-19 will pop up in Teton County again.
“This virus is still very much present among us,” Beaupre said. “And it will be present among us until we have a mass-produced vaccine.”