Teton County saw another COVID-19 death in January, bringing the total since the pandemic started to seven, according to state health data released Tuesday. Infections in the valley remain high, keeping the community in the critical risk category and keeping health care providers busy helping patients navigate the virus.
The Wyoming Department of Health reported 28 more deaths statewide due to complications from the coronavirus, bringing the total to 624. That included the Teton County death, which was described as an older man.
“He was hospitalized both within and outside of Wyoming,” the state Health Department reported. “It’s unclear whether he had health conditions recognized as putting patients at higher risk of serious illness related to COVID-19.”
As cases remain high in Teton County, local leaders and health experts are asking the community to redouble efforts to rein in the virus.
“With a more contagious variant present, and the transmission risk level at critical, I would like to remind everyone, including our visitors, of the importance of following the current public health orders,” Teton County Commissioner Natalia D. Macker stressed during a recent community update. Macker pointed specifically to the recommendation to gather only with your household.
She also suggested getting tested even if you have no symptoms.
“If you are not already part of the surveillance testing program, a reminder that you can get a free Vault test delivered to your home,” she said. “My son and I did one this morning.”
Such surveillance is key since people with no symptoms or mild symptoms can spread the disease.
Dr. Jim Little Jr., chief of staff at St. John’s Health, sees a wide range of newly diagnosed patients with COVID-19 through St. John’s Urgent Care in the Smith’s Plaza. The medical staff at Urgent Care typically use telemedicine visits, via video conference, to reduce the risk of infection while identifying patients who need further evaluation at the hospital or can “self treat” at home, he said.
Little has observed the community doing a decent job with masking, social distancing and limiting exposure to people outside their households.
“That’s not to say everybody’s been perfect at it, but we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” he said. “In spite of those efforts we’re seeing a significant surge in the numbers.”
Teton County has the most active infections in the state with 188 reported Tuesday, followed by 159 active cases in Natrona County and 103 in Fremont County, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
Jackson Hole is also seeing higher per capita infection rates compared with counties with ski resorts in Colorado and Montana. According to the New York Times coronavirus data tracking project, Teton County on Tuesday had 100 cases per 100,000 residents compared to 71, 59 and 54 for Routt (Steamboat Springs), Pitkin (Aspen) and Eagle (Vail) counties, respectively, in Colorado. Gallatin County, Montana, home to Big Sky, had 32 per 100,000. Summit County (Park City), Utah, is at 53 cases per 100,000.
Part of the reason for Teton County’s high caseload could be the more contagious variant, first detected in the U.K., now confirmed in Jackson Hole, Little said.
“The measures that we’ve been taking may not be quite enough,” he said Friday. “We may have to do a little bit more to get over the hump here and ... get people healthy again.”
Locals also may be slipping up a bit due to pandemic fatigue, Little said, pointing to outbreaks related to small private gatherings during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
“They weren’t getting together in large groups, but even if you’re only getting together with four or six people, that still is increasing your exposure,” he said.
Little also suspects that community spread is coming from people with mild or no symptoms. He’s seen patients come in for an injury like a broken bone and find out through routine screening that they have COVID-19 as well.
“So they don’t realize,” he said, “and the people that are exposed to them don’t realize that they’re contagious.”