Elected officials discuss COVID-19 precautions

Teton County Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell speaks during a special joint meeting with town and county officials March 16 at Town Hall. Riddell said Friday that he submitted a variance to state health orders that would limit gatherings in Teton County to fewer than 10 people.

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Teton County residents may soon face COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.

It wouldn’t be a return to the stay-at-home order the county had in the spring, but it is a step toward tighter measures.

The state’s current coronavirus health orders prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people. During his press conference Friday morning, Gov. Mark Gordon indicated that new, possibly more restrictive health orders are likely coming, but state guidance is so far unchanged.

Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell said he felt it was time to take more drastic action, submitting a request to limit gatherings to fewer than 10 people.

“I’m not willing to wait,” he said at Friday’s community update. “It’s time to make a move.”

The request will need approval from State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, who has granted other variances, though often following wrangling over their wording. Riddell did not give an expected timeline for a decision from Harrist.

Riddell said he was worried about the community’s ability to manage the growing pandemic.

“These cases have totally overwhelmed the capacity of our state and local health departments,” he said. “They’ve overwhelmed the capacity of our schools to safely teach our children.”

As of Friday afternoon, Teton County had 41 new cases, bringing its active total to 175, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

Despite his relatively gloomy presentation, Riddell pointed to what he called “light at the end of the tunnel”: Earlier this week, drugmaker Pfizer issued a press release saying a vaccine it has been developing to fight the coronavirus was 90% effective, far outstripping expectations.

Even if that level of efficacy holds, it will be months before a vaccine comes to Teton County. Companies and policymakers are still hashing out which priority groups — such as health care workers or higher-risk patients — will receive the first rounds.

Riddell was heartened by the idea that the vaccine may soon offer relief, but he warned that the community must still remain vigilant for the time being.

“There’s a solution on the horizon that can get us through this,” he said, “if we can just make it a few more months and buckle down and do the right thing.”

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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