If Teton County were a state, it would have the fourth-highest rate of new daily coronavirus infections per 100,000 people.
Using that metric, which allows communities of different sizes to be compared, only Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi would have higher rates.
Over the past two weeks, the seven-day rolling average of that rate in Teton County has grown from 9.1 per 100,000 people to 39.
“That gives me the chills,” Teton County Director of Health Jodie Pond said during Friday afternoon’s COVID-19 community update.
Since Teton County’s original outbreak subsided, the community updates have taken place every other week. But Mayor Pete Muldoon said Friday that if current trends continue, elected officials and health experts may need to increase their frequency back up to every week.
That’s because the outbreak is moving faster than it did even in the beginning of the crisis.
In the past two weeks, 99 new cases have been confirmed in the county, Pond said, 39% of all cases since the start of the pandemic. That exponential spike has eclipsed any record set so far, including for total active cases and most in one day.
Of those 99 cases, 55 had contact with a known case as a risk factor, while 10 had travel as a risk factor. Twenty-five are attributed to community spread, and some of the cases are still in the contact tracing process.
Even with the staggering numbers, Pond has hope.
“We can change the direction in which we’re going,” she said. “We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.”
She pointed to the recently approved mask order as a crucial step in the right direction, though both she and St. John’s Health CEO Dr. Paul Beaupre said physical distancing was just as important.
For evidence of the effectiveness of masks, Pond looks south.
Summit and Salt Lake counties enacted the first two county-level mask orders in Utah. The orders went into place in late June, when the two counties had rampant community spread and higher incidence rates than the rest of the state.
“They shared some data this week,” Pond said. “Those two counties are flattening their curve. They’re going down, and the rest of Utah’s going up where there are no mask orders.”
One piece of good news in the COVID-19 numbers is the relative lack of hospitalizations. St. John’s has ample capacity for COVID-19 cases it has seen, Beaupre said, and is practiced at keeping them separate from other patients.
“The hospital’s in great position right now to address a surge capacity, if that should happen,” Beaupre said at the update.
According to the Teton County coronavirus dashboard, three patients are at St. John’s due to COVID-19, two in the primary care unit and one in the intensive care unit. The low numbers may be due in part to the demographics of the recent cases, most of which are in people under the age of 34, who are statistically less likely to come down with a severe illness.
Beaupre, Pond and basically every other official who spoke at Friday’s update hammered home the message that the recent spread is not due to summer tourists.
“I want to be clear,” Beaupre said. “The data that we’re looking at suggests that the vast majority of the spread is us giving this to each other, not that it’s coming to us from visitors.”
Pond said mask wearing in businesses has limited spread in public places, according to her department’s contact tracing. Instead, much of the spread seems to be linked to smaller social events like house parties or barbecues.
“The problem is the lack of mask use and the lack of physical distancing in people’s personal lives,” she said.
This story has been updated to show that Teton County has a high rate of new daily coronavirus cases. — Ed.