By Evan Robinson-Johnson
Jackson Hole Daily
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON — As of 4 p.m. Thursday, all Teton County residents, workers, and visitors are required to wear face coverings in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.
As outlined in Public Health Order No. 21-5, masks must be worn in most public buildings where 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained. At restaurants and bars, patrons must be masked until they take their seats. All businesses must post signage requiring face coverings.
The mandate was approved Thursday by Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell and Wyoming Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist following 48 hours of public comment. Communications sent to Riddell and Harrist were also sent to the Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners.
Those elected bodies will vote next week on whether to extend the health order beyond Sept. 4. The council is planning to decide at its Monday meeting, while the commissioners opted to schedule a special session.
Per Wyoming statute updated in 2021, county health officers can only require a mask mandate for 10 days; longer mandates must be ratified by elected officials.
More than 600 public comments flooded in following the Tuesday announcement that a mandate could go into effect. Preliminary results showed roughly 350 in favor, 248 opposed.
Riddell said the mandate is a response to the county’s surge in COVID-19 breakthrough cases of vaccinated individuals and a spike in hospitalizations. Per the health order: “A significant number of Wyoming citizens are at risk of serious health complications, including death, from COVID-19.”
In early August, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon declined to issue a statewide mask mandate, instead deferring to county governments and school districts. His directive discouraging vaccine mandates from local governments and private businesses remains in effect.
Like prior mask mandates, Public Health Order No. 21-5 will be difficult to enforce due to language that protects those who choose not to wear masks due to a medical exemption.
“A person is not required to provide any documentation demonstrating that the person cannot wear a Face Covering for any medical condition, mental health condition or disability,” the order states.
Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr doesn’t anticipate issuing citations due to that clause.
“As sheriff, I certainly support Dr. Riddell and the local health department, it just creates legal challenges for us,” he said.
As it stands, the mask mandate will remain in effect until Sept. 4 as long as the county remains in high or significant risk for COVID-19 transmission.
Those benchmarks are on based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention metrics of new weekly cases and test positivity rate.
If council members and commissioners vote Monday to extend the requirement, it would bring the region in line with Teton County School District No. 1, which voted Wednesday to start the school year with universal masking.
A fractured vote could divide mask requirements along town/county lines.