Teton County School District No. 1 unanimously voted Wednesday evening to require face masks for the next two weeks, following a verbal recommendation by Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell.
The school board's decision seemed to be based primarily on the high number of students missing school for COVID-19 quarantines and isolation. Since re-opening Jan. 3 without a mask mandate, up to 20% of students have been absent, with more than 200 students out for COVID-related reasons last Thursday. Pediatric cases have increased by more than 300%, according to Teton County Health Department data.
At the meeting, Riddell acknowledged the omicron variant poses less risk of severe illness, but he also told the board masks will slow the spread of transmission between students, which should keep them in classrooms.
"Now is the time for us to be using every tool at our disposal," he said.
Trustee Bill Scarlett pushed back against Riddell's recommendation, questioning why schools should be singled out when most valley residents are still gathering unmasked in places like bars and on Jackson Hole Mountain Resort's aerial tram.
But ultimately, he joined other board members in supporting a temporary mandate while cases surge in the community.
Chairman Keith Gingery said reconvening for a special meeting on Jan. 26 should allow schools a chance to "see how we're doing" with the new surge.