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.