Town of Jackson aerial

The town of Jackson.

Business owners, it’s not too late to sign workers up for surveillance testing.

Teton County Director of Health Jodie Pond said at Friday’s community update that her Health Department will start its surveillance-testing program Monday with 73 businesses, but will still take employers that want to join.

“If you are a business that signed up, your employees should be notified today to go to a website and choose a time ... that you can go and get a cheek swab,” Pond said.

Surveillance testing is for asymptomatic people. Each week a random group will be tested, and anyone with the virus will be told to self-isolate.

Given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that as many as 80% of COVID-19 carriers could have mild to no symptoms, the program could catch people who don’t feel sick before they spread the virus to others.

“We’re hoping to do around 500 [tests] next week as kind of a soft rollout, and then increase our numbers weekly until we get to around 1,000 a week,” Pond said.

Because it’s paid for with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money, the Health Department’s surveillance testing is free for businesses and their employees. People are free to opt out of the voluntary testing.

Testing will be conducted in the Teton County Fairgrounds exhibit hall, the department said in a press release sent before Friday’s community update.

Appointments will be offered between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, and 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Employees who are tested will remain in their cars, and results will be sent directly to them, not employers.

If a test comes back positive, the Health Department will begin a contact tracing investigation.

Email Kristen Trivelli at kristen.trivelli@wyo.gov to join.

The start of surveillance testing comes as the county is still seeing high numbers of visitors. Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce Vice President Rick Howe joined Friday’s update to discuss the outlook for the next part of the tourism season.

According to a Chamber of Commerce straw poll of lodging establishments, occupancy will run at around 76% for the next three weekends. Numbers often go up as the weekend approaches, so that rate could increase, but that is a decrease from earlier this summer, when weekends in July verged on full occupancy.

In spite of the high visitor numbers, Howe said, spending in the county has been down. In July 2019, sales tax revenue was $11.4 million; for the same month this year, it was $7.7 million, a roughly 32% drop.

Those numbers highlight the Health Department’s belief that although the economic pain for businesses has been severe, efforts like surveillance testing help ease the struggles.

“Without this early detection, the closures and impacts on businesses would be far more profound,” the department said in the press release.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

(1) comment

Candra Day

Hooray for Jodie Ponds and the Teton County Health Department! We cannot suppress this pandemic without widespread testing and this is a terrific first step in that direction. Without knowing the extent of infection and isolating and treating people who are infected safely, COVID will continue to threaten our community and our economy. Let's test so that we can know and so that we can act.

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