Holiday COVID surge overwhelms Teton County's tracing teams

JACKSON — A recent spike in COVID cases has overwhelmed Teton County case investigators, who are now prioritizing outreach to more vulnerable residents, the Teton County Health Department announced in a press release Monday.

In the week ending Dec. 25, or Christmas Day, the Health Department received 209 reported cases of COVID-19 in Teton County residents, a 386% increase from the previous 7-day period.

The substantial increase in cases can be partially attributed to increased testing as people prepared for holiday travel. 

But Public Health Response Coordinator Rachael Wheeler also said more people are having symptoms and testing. She cautioned against attributing the rise in cases to any singular explanation.

The department also noted testing delays from the holiday weekend. Curative’s rapid testing site in the future Target plaza saw long lines, then closed on Christmas Day, while Jackson’s send-out kiosks were closed for multiple days to account for a shipping freeze on Christmas.

“If testing was open a normal week, we would most likely see an even higher number of cases,” Wheeler said.

State and local health officials still have not announced the presence of the omicron variant in Teton County, though Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell said fewer cases are being genetically sequenced because of the widespread use of rapid tests, which aren’t sent to state labs.

Meanwhile, the recent spike in cases is forcing public health investigators to prioritize outreach to older residents, those believed to be at higher risk for severe disease, people who live or work in communal living settings, or instances where there is concern of significant further spread of COVID-19 in the community. 

Teton County residents who test positive for COVID-19 but do not meet these criteria may not receive a call from Health Department staff during this surge of cases, the release stated.

Officials are asking people who test positive for COVID-19 to take the following steps:

• Isolate yourself from everyone possible, including members of your household; stay home and don’t return to work until 10 days after symptom onset.

• Notify all those who have been in close contact with you while you were sick or up to 48 hours prior to your onset of symptoms and let them know that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. Close contacts who have symptoms should get tested as soon as possible. Those who do not have symptoms should wait until at least 5 days after the exposure before they test.

• If you believe you are at high risk for severe disease, contact your health care provider for treatment options.

• As stated by the CDC, “look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19 such as trouble breathing; persistent pain or pressure in the chest; new confusion; inability to wake or stay awake; pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds; or any other symptom that is concerning you.”

For close contacts to a positive case, the department recommends:

• If you are fully vaccinated and not experiencing symptoms, monitor yourself for symptoms, get tested 5-7 days after the exposure, and wear a mask in all indoor settings until you get a negative test result, or it has been 14 days since the exposure.

• If you are not fully vaccinated and have no symptoms, quarantine and get tested 5 days after exposure.

• If you are experiencing symptoms, isolate and get tested as soon as possible regardless of your vaccination status.

Health officials expect to see an increase in COVID-19 cases over the coming weeks. They urge everyone to wear masks in crowded indoor settings, stay home and get tested when sick, and get vaccinated and boosted.

“These steps are vital for preventing further transmission of the virus and protecting those who are the most vulnerable in our community,” the release stated.

The department also said community members “should expect” exposure to COVID-19 in places like “crowded enclosed areas.”