Signs welcome people to town and inform of mask requirements

Before entering town Wednesday, July 15, motorists drive by a large sign that reads “Welcome to Jackson – masks are required by city ord.” on the corner of Broadway and Highway 22. The ordinance was passed by Jackson Town Council on July 3 and required people to wear masks in limited, mostly indoor spaces to slow the spread of coronavirus. A recently passed Teton County health order superseded the town one.

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No matter how effective you feel cloth face coverings are, if you refuse to wear one in public businesses in Teton County, you could be hit with a fine.

Now that Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell’s mask order has gone into effect, it carries up to a $1,000 fine or six months in jail. Granted, you may not catch the entire penalty.

“Law enforcement can use discretion on this,” Riddell said. “That’s something that they do in their job every day.”

Public debate on mask orders have touched on their efficacy, as well as enforcement, but now that the rule is signed the penalty is quite simple. Just like other violations, not wearing a mask is something a cop could cite you for.

At a Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce webinar to help business owners deal with customers who don’t want to wear masks, Jackson police Sgt. Michelle Weber laid out three types of calls the Jackson Police Department has received regarding the town mask ordinance after it went into effect July 3. The Jackson Town Council allowed that ordinance to expire because the Teton County health order superseded it.

The first is from people searching for information on the ordinance. In those cases, police explain the terms or email the legislation to the caller.

For anyone familiar with the town of Jackson mask ordinance, the countywide order will look comparable, with similar exceptions and stipulations on when masks are required. So whatever education the police have so far provided will still be helpful.

A second type of call is for a defiant customer who refuses to wear a mask at a business and won’t leave. Stores have turned to the cops when that has happened, but Weber said officers weren’t necessarily enforcing the mask ordinance, even under those circumstances.

“When we respond we’re not necessarily responding to take action on the mask ordinance itself,” she said. “We would be handling a trespass issue.”

Part of that reason, she said, is that trespass is a well-documented criminal offense, while mask orders haven’t been upheld in court. That may not be necessary, as U.S. Supreme Court precedent has upheld much more stringent public health requirements as lawful, including a vaccination requirement during a 1905 smallpox outbreak.

The third type of call police have received is from customers reporting businesses for not making employees wear masks. Technically, businesses could be fined for not following the public health orders, but Weber said the cops haven’t gone down that road.

“We use that as an educational opportunity to pick up the phone and contact the store manager or owners and explain to them the situation,” she said.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

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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