Jackson Hole health officials have documented a second case of the highly transmissible coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom.
Preliminary data indicates the variant could be 50% to 75% more transmissible, Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell said Friday during a community COVID-19 update livestreamed from Town Hall.
Riddell received news of the second confirmed case — so far not linked to the first case — in the middle of delivering a virus update to the community, and promptly relayed the information.
Health officials emphasized that the best way to beat the more infectious strain is to double down on current prevention measures, including using the best masks — two-ply tightly woven cloth masks, surgical masks or KN95 masks — while also maintaining physical distancing and avoiding gathering with those outside one’s household.
“Single-ply Buffs don’t really cut it with the variant,” Teton County Director of Health Jodie Pond warned.
Riddell said the recommendation to not gather with people from outside one’s household worked to bring case numbers down in early December. He was hopeful it would work again if people follow the advice.
“Unfortunately, neither vaccination nor having had COVID disease is a ticket to relax and ease back on those things,” Riddell warned, “at least not yet.”
As if to illustrate his point, Riddell gave his update on Teton County’s record-shattering case counts from his home, where he was in quarantine after coming into contact with an asymptomatic COVID-positive patient.
Even though the pediatrician has been vaccinated, he said people who have received the shot still must follow the same precautions as those who have not.
Although people who are vaccinated have a much lower chance of getting a full-blown infection, researchers still don’t know the extent to which vaccinated individuals might be able to spread the virus.
“Getting the vaccine doesn’t prevent you from inhaling the virus, it doesn’t prevent the virus from attaching to your mucous membranes,” Riddell said. “It’s likely that the virus can still invade your cells and reproduce to some extent before your immune system kicks in, which means you may be able to transmit it to others without even knowing you have it.”
Riddell said he was extremely grateful to have received the vaccine, which reduced his chance of getting seriously ill and needing hospitalization. He plans to follow the same precautions as someone who has not been vaccinated, he said.
Riddell reported that Teton County saw a 118% increase in new cases, with 543 reported between Jan. 8 and Jan. 21. Based on U.S. Census population estimates, that equates to 1 in every 44 residents in the county has tested positive in that two-week period.
“On the plus side, about 1 in 9 Teton County residents has now recovered after having tested positive,” he said.
Health officials also lauded businesses that have taken steps to help stem the spread of the virus, such as Teton County’s National Museum of Wildlife Art and the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum, which have closed to the public.
“We hope acting now will help protect our community and ultimately preserve the rest of the winter season,” Historical Society Executive Director Morgan Jaouen said in a press release.
Health officials urge residents to download the Care19 Alert app on their cell phones to assist with contact tracing.