By Tom Hallberg and Billy Arnold
Jackson Hole Daily
The Jackson Town Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting mask wearing at a special meeting Monday morning.
The resolution isn’t an ordinance, meaning it isn’t an enforceable law. What it does is throw the full support of the Town Council behind a potential public health order requiring masks that Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell has been working on and could ask State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist to approve.
Business leaders spoke at the Monday meeting, some describing negative, aggressive interactions with visitors and customers who disagree with their individual mask requirements. They asked the council to approve the resolution and give them cover to ask customers to wear face coverings.
“We’re close to having something happen down there between folks who are there literally on vacation looking to pick a fight over this particular issue,” Jackson Trading Company owner Sean Love told the council.
Supporting a mask order was the only item on the agenda for the special meeting, which the town announced around 8 p.m. Saturday on its email list serve, a service that must be subscribed to.
Momentum on the issue seems to be building, as the Teton County Board of County Commissioners held preliminary discussions Monday about a mask resolution. Commissioners did not set a time to vote on a mask resolution, and they passed on their next opportunity to do so, a budget meeting on Tuesday.
“If we are wanting to hear it tomorrow, I would hesitate to do that because we still have work to do on our budget,” Chair Natalia D. Macker said.
She advocated kicking the can down the road to a meeting next week. The board’s feelings on a mask order and how to hear from the public about one were mixed.
Commissioner Mark Barron said he was for masks, but he had concerns about an order.
“My fear is that if an ordinance is passed, or some kind of law or order that everybody must wear masks in every place, we’re going to create an enforcement issue that will lead to serious disappointment,” he said Monday.
Commissioner Greg Epstein tangled with deferring to the Teton County Board of Health, and giving the Health Department funds for a mask-related advertising campaign.
Commissioners Mark Newcomb and Luther Propst pushed for more input.
“I would like to hear both from the Board of Health and the public,” Propst said. “For us this is both a health issue and an economic issue.”
Propst is in luck because the Teton County Board of Health, which advises commissioners and advances public health policy, is set to discuss the potential mask order at a 1:30 p.m. Tuesday special meeting. Even though he is not a member of the board, Riddell attends its meetings, so the meeting could presage what an order might look like.
During Monday’s Town Council meeting, elected officials were in lockstep on the importance of masks. COVID-19 case numbers are growing in Wyoming, with roughly 25% of all lab-confirmed cases having arisen in the past two weeks.
Despite that, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Monday that he would extend his existing health orders through July 15 without making any changes to them. That means local officials are left to enact their own mask orders.
Councilors also addressed some of the most common complaints about mask orders, one being that they are an infringement on personal liberties. The resolution skirts that particular quagmire because it is not an enforceable mandate, but Councilor Jim Stanford took issue with that argument in regard to mask orders in general.
“The notion that this is somehow infringing on your liberty is nonsense,” he said.
For the order itself, Riddell hasn’t yet finalized the text, but he said whatever he would present to Harrist for approval would hew closely to his most recent recommendation, which is attached to the online version of this article at jhnewsandguide.com.
“I think that it’ll most likely look quite similar to that,” he said.
This story has been updated to show that Riddell is not a member of the Teton County Board of Health. — Ed.
Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or email@example.com.