Contact tracing

This chart shows how contact tracing helps the Teton County Health Department find close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19. The department is scaling back its number of investigators because of the slowdown in cases.

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Teton County’s not out of the viral woods yet, but some aspects of the coronavirus response are being scaled down.

Case numbers have declined, with 60 new cases between April 9 and 22, a 39% decrease from the previous two-week period, Director of Health Jodie Pond told the Teton County Board of County Commissioners Monday. That has corresponded with a low positivity rate, just 2.67%, though it’s not all good news.

“Even though our positivity rate is low, our testing numbers are also very low. And so that’s a little concerning,” Pond said, noting that 62% of cases in the past two weeks have been from community spread, rather than being traceable back to an individual sick person.

Pond presented a broad overview of the Teton County Health Department’s COVID-19 demobilization plan to commissioners. The reduction in cases means there is less work for the team of contact tracers she has hired over the pandemic.

That’s a stark turnaround from the fall and winter, when contact tracers couldn’t keep up with the dozens of new cases every day. As the vaccination rate increases, the hope is that the recent success in slowing transmission will stick.

However, Pond still worries about the possibility of an uptick over summer when seasonal workers and tourists converge on Jackson.

“It’s sort of a, you know, Catch-22,” she said. “We don’t want to have to hold people indefinitely and not give them hours, but if we do have a surge in the summer, we’re going to need to gear back up quickly.”

As part of the demobilization plan, the Health Department has discussed ending the mask mandate early, Pond told commissioners, though no decision has been made. Many surrounding states and counties have lifted such mandates as cases have dropped, though some areas that did so have seen cases remain high, such as in the eastern Idaho cities of Rexburg and Idaho Falls.

Part of the switch in tactics is a change in how vaccines are distributed. The Health Department has seen sparse attendance at its recent clinics, so it is switching to an outreach campaign to work with employers and others to provide information and encourage unvaccinated people to get the shots.

Recent guidance from the Wyoming Department of Health, Pond said, gives the county Health Department the leeway to vaccinate anyone over the age of 16. Work is already being done to reach seasonal workers, and tourists who plan on spending a long chunk of time in Jackson are welcome to receive the shots, as can people who got their first shots elsewhere.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or

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.

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