Officials are likely to strengthen regulations designed to inhibit the spread of
COVID-19 with a stay-at-home order for all town of Jackson residents, though it’s unclear whether the same will be true for all of Teton County.
The order would require everyone — at least within town limits — to remain at home except for essential activities, like buying groceries and medical supplies, performing essential business or government functions, caring for family members in other households and spending time outdoors.
That measure would intensify local efforts to stave off a major outbreak of coronavirus as the disease continues to spread in Teton County. The Town Council met to consider it Friday afternoon but waited to approve it until at least Saturday, to see whether Gov. Mark Gordon announces any statewide orders beyond what he has already enacted.
A state order would likely be less stringent than what the town has in mind, applying only to vulnerable populations. It may also leave out other provisions that Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell has recommended, including directing visitors to return home and requiring residents who leave the region to self-quarantine for two weeks upon return.
Though the town can approve an emergency order that goes beyond the state’s, the county does not have the same power. Local officials lamented the possibility that the entire community will not be subject to the same restrictions.
“It is not the ideal way to move forward,” Mayor Pete Muldoon said, “but we have limited tools to use.”
Riddell said he has been “very torn” over whether to recommend a stay-at-home order for all residents or for only vulnerable populations. He argued in a Guest Shot in Wednesday’s edition of the Jackson Hole News&Guide that the goal is to slow the spread of coronavirus rather than stop it, and that overly aggressive measures could slow it too much.
But given that younger people are also susceptible to the worst effects of the virus, and that hospitals in Utah will not accept patients from Teton County even if local medical resources become too stressed, he and other officials became convinced that a more restrictive order would be the safest course.
“I want to give our hospital every chance to meet the needs of our community,” Councilor Jim Stanford said, “because we may have to go it alone.”
Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith said he sees the order as a strong message and a way to educate the community, but he also said his officers will not enforce it.
The councilors will meet again at 1 p.m. Saturday after seeing how state officials proceed. They noted that waiting an extra day will allow more time for health experts, town staff and the public to weigh in on the order.
The order may also close hotels and short-term lodging facilities to visitors but leave them open to certain people, including Teton County residents and essential workers staying in them for extended periods of time.
Though some worried that the order was rushed, others argued that a quick response is crucial. Stanford noted that many resort towns have seen far higher rates of virus transmission than the national average and that it wouldn’t take much to overwhelm the hospital system.
“That is an emergency,” he said, “and that to me is why we’re here to consider taking action.”