Teton County to let mask requirement expire Dec. 31

JACKSON — When Public Health Order No. 21-5 expires Dec. 31, masks will no longer be required throughout Teton County. 

The mask mandate — first implemented by Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell on Aug. 26 and extended through December by elected officials the following week — required all residents and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors. 

Riddell and Public Health Director Jodie Pond wrote to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners and Jackson Town Council on Dec. 14 to explain the plan not to issue another public health order. 

"There have been a few developments that have occurred that have allowed us to feel more comfortable with the mask order ending," the letter stated.

"We will continue to evaluate the COVID-19 levels in our community and may need to recommend more aggressive public health interventions this winter if we see not only a winter surge in cases but also a surge in hospitalizations."

Wyoming law requires all public health orders to be ratified by elected officials after 10 days. 

With the omicron variant of the coronavirus looming, it's not clear whether masks are coming off because of declining COVID risk or political pressure. 

Commissioner Mark Newcomb, who spoke with the News&Guide Tuesday, said "I would not support a comprehensive community-wide mandate based on the same metrics [as Public Health Order No. 21-5]." Newcomb said he believes fellow Commissioner Luther Propst and commission Chair Natalia Macker, who previously supported the mask mandate, feel similarly. 

"I think as a community we are ready to accept a slightly riskier situation," Newcomb said.

From Public Health, that perspective isn't exactly set in stone. 

"I don't believe it's any safer now, especially with omicron," Pond told the News&Guide on Tuesday. 

That statement comes despite the promise of new treatments like Merck’s COVID-19 antiviral pill, which Pond and Riddell referenced in their letter to electeds.

Less than half of children 5 to 11 are vaccinated, and booster shots — which appear to be more necessary against omicron — are delayed due to staffing restrictions at Teton County Health Department, Public Health Response Coordinator Rachael Wheeler confirmed Tuesday.

Wheeler said she's grateful the mandate will continue through New Year's Eve. Beyond that, the impact of the coronavirus remains to be seen.