Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell heavily infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus particles (yellow), isolated from a patient sample. The black area in the image is extracellular space between the cells. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

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In Teton County, most COVID-19 cases are now being reported in vaccinated individuals.

Most hospitalized patients, however, are unvaccinated, and Jackson’s hospital staff is at capacity.

With over 70% of Jackson Hole residents vaccinated, Teton County Director of Health Jodie Pond told the Teton District Board of Health on Friday and the Teton County Board of County Commissioners on Monday that a significant number of breakthrough cases — infections among vaccinated people — are to be expected. Data from the county Health Department show breakthrough cases currently account for 58.4% of all active COVID-19 cases.

“If 71% of our community is vaccinated, the denominator is much bigger,” Pond told commissioners. “You’re going to expect a higher percentage of people have those breakthrough cases. And this is all due to the delta variant being more infectious.”

Pond reported 334 coronavirus cases in the last two weeks Monday morning, with 195 of those being in vaccinated individuals. But, while some vaccinated people have landed in the hospital, the health department director said their infections are generally less severe.

“If you’re vaccinated and you do get a case of COVID,” Pond said, “you’re more likely to have a mild case [and] not end up in the hospital.”

At the Teton District Board of Health’s Friday meeting about the new, indoor mask mandate, Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell said, “We’re again entering a scary period.”

Vaccines for young people and booster shots could “change the equation,” Riddell said, but new variants of the coronavirus are also on the horizon.

Meanwhile, St. John’s Health interim CEO David Robertson reports he cannot staff additional beds as his staff is close to being overwhelmed.

Most hospital patients are unvaccinated, Pond said. Since July 1, only 20% of people hospitalized for COVID-19 infections have been vaccinated people. Many are not Teton County residents.

“We’re mostly still seeing people that are unvaccinated in the hospital and people from surrounding counties, as well as tourists,” Pond said Monday. “But because we’ve got such a highly vaccinated community, I think our locals are being spared for the most part.”

“Not to say that they haven’t had a few [hospitalizations] here and there,” she added.

Jackson’s positivity rate is hovering around 7%, Pond said, with 25 new cases per day. Roughly half of those cases are from community spread. Pond emphasized Friday and again Monday that a person is still 1.5 times more likely to contract COVID-19 if unvaccinated.

Breakthrough cases demonstrate how easily vaccinated people can spread the virus. The infection rate in that population, coupled with the heavy load of patients at St. John’s, was a driving force behind the county’s new indoor mask mandate. Following the Board of Health’s direction, the Jackson Town Council voted to extend the mandate through Dec. 31. The county commission will take the issue up at 8:15 a.m. Thursday. Read more about the mandate on page 2.

When they arrive, booster shots should trigger a heightened immune response that would protect people from catching and transmitting the delta variant, Pond said.

The rollout of those third doses is expected to begin Sept. 20 and follow the same order as the original doses, so essential workers and nursing home residents will get their boosters first, Pond said. She said her department was waiting for federal and state approvals for booster shots before rolling them out to the general population. Moderately and severely immunocompromised people began receiving their third shots last week.

The vaccination bus will wind down as the Health Department transitions staff to the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole, one of the large vaccination sites from earlier in the pandemic. Volunteers will be sought to help out.

Contact Evan Robinson-Johnson at 732-5901 or ERJ@jhnewsandguide.com.

Evan Robinson-Johnson covers issues residents face on a daily basis, from smoky skies to housing insecurity. Originally from New England, he has settled in east Jackson and avoids crowds by rollerblading through the alleyways.

Teton County Reporter

Billy Arnold has covered government and policy since January 2020, sitting through hours of Teton County meetings so readers don't have to. He moonlights as a ski reporter, helps with pandemic coverage and sneaks away to climb when he can.

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(3) comments

Judd Grossman

Seems like everyone is going to get it eventually. Vaccine seems to lessen severity. Not clear that masks make a difference.

Melinda Ackerman

I'm curious about the data behind this line: "Breakthrough cases demonstrate how easily vaccinated people can spread the virus."

What evidence is suggesting that vaccinated people are the ones spreading it in our community? The recent Oxford study stated that it was unclear how contagious breakthrough cases are, for various reasons. Without contact tracing, how can we possibly make that assertion?

When you're talking about 58% of new cases are in vaccinated people vs 42% in unvaccinated people, in a population where over 70% are vaccinated, *and* if I understand this article correctly, many of the reported breakthrough cases aren't even locals...did they contract it here, or while traveling, or did they bring it from home where there is a lower vaccination rate? All important questions when you assert that vaccinated people can spread covid "easily."

I am glad the mask mandate is back. It will be interesting to see if this actually makes a difference to our hospital, if so many admits are tourists that may be covid positive before they even arrive.

Brent Blue

A "case" is just a positive test. It does not imply any severity. Most "cases" have minimal or no symptoms and are tested due to contacts or travel.

Welcome to the discussion.

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