Protests and COVID cases

Hundreds of protesters walk down East Pearl Avenue toward the Jackson Police Department during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in June. So far, the Teton County Health Department says no COVID-19 cases have been linked to the protests.

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With community spread having returned, public health officials are warning people to act like anyone they come into contact with could have the coronavirus. Even so, they’re allowing large outdoor events to go on with precautions.

That includes the Town Square Shootout.

“I didn’t vote for it,” Mayor Pete Muldoon said at Friday’s community update, “but I do want to point out the town staff is working diligently with the Health Department to review every special event, maximize distance and make them as safe as possible.”

The Jackson Town Council approved the event last week, and Muldoon said since it makes decisions as a whole, he stands by the choice. The town’s mask ordinance would not apply to the Shootout, though the approval of the event requires that people wear masks. Organizers have not yet set a date for when the Shootout might start.

Meanwhile, a recent data point could indicate a large outdoor event like the Shootout might not be a huge vector for the coronavirus, provided masks are worn and social distancing is observed. The last large events to happen in downtown Jackson were a series of protests following the killing of George Floyd.

There has been speculation among some in the national media that such protests would cause spikes in COVID-19 cases. So far, however, those haven’t materialized, according to reports from The New York Times and The Seattle Times.

Likewise in Jackson, Teton County Director of Health Jodie Pond said: “We saw no cases linked to the protests.”

Health Department staff members use contact tracing interviews, detailed investigations into the movement of a person who tests positive, to connect certain people or events to the disease’s spread. They have asked about attendance at the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in June, and they could not find that any of the positive cases had contracted COVID-19 at them.

Given that the protests were in mid-June, the incubation period for the virus in relation to the protests has passed, meaning had cases arisen at them, investigators would have seen them already. An infected person can take 14 days to show symptoms, though that time period is usually much shorter, often around four or five days.

At the demonstrations, most protestors wore masks, even though no requirement was in place to do so. Studies have shown the coronavirus dissipates faster in outdoor settings, so the combination of mask wearing and air circulation may have played a role.

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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