Masks on Jackson's Town Square

Teton County's mask order may be rescinded early if case numbers remain low.

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Much has happened in the past 284 days: The United States chose a new president, schools went virtual, and Grizzly 399 went into and emerged from her den with four cubs intact.

Throughout that entire time, Teton County residents wore masks, but the government mandate to do so will likely end Friday — 10 days earlier than originally expected.

“The emergent nature of our situation is waning significantly, which challenges the legitimacy of a government-mandated mask order,” Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell wrote in an open letter Sunday to the community (See page A5).

Ending the order, he wrote, isn’t an indication masks are no longer necessary, just a recognition that they are again a matter of personal responsibility. Teton County’s COVID-19 numbers have dramatically improved, with just 15 active cases as of Tuesday and a 7-day average of just 1.7 new cases per day.

Vaccinations have played a big role in tamping down the local pandemic, he said. Teton County is among the most-vaccinated places in the country, with 57% of residents being fully vaccinated.

Masks were always for “source control,” Riddell wrote, keeping people from transmitting the disease. With almost three in five people now protected from serious infection, local residents are now less at risk should they come into contact with an infectious individual.

“In COVID-19 vaccines, we now have a tool with which most individuals can very effectively protect themselves and need not be as reliant on the actions of others,” Riddell wrote.

However, the community has not yet reached the estimated level of protection for herd immunity. Children and immunocompromised people are unable to receive protection from the vaccine, Riddell wrote, so taking precautions is still recommended because the community is “not out of the woods yet.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, which Riddell said he agrees with, still says people should wear masks indoors and at larger outdoor gatherings, even after being vaccinated. With tourism season approaching, which coincided with an uptick in cases last year, health officials say masks, social distancing and hand washing are necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to unvaccinated people.

Wyoming and the United States trail Teton County in vaccination rates, so the possibility of tourists importing COVID-19 remains high. Should that result in an uptick in local cases, Riddell said he would consider reinstating the mandate.

“We can continue our downward trend with common sense measures and a regard for those around us,” he wrote. “I will not hesitate to pursue reinstatement of the mask mandate if warranted in the future by precipitously deteriorating public health metrics.”

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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