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Stories, Stats, Impacts: Wyoming Public Media is here to keep you current on the news surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Teton County Is Seeing High COVID-19 Transmission Rates

 A nurse administering a BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 test
A nurse administering a BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 test

Teton County is the most highly vaccinated county in the state, but at the time of year when the population in the community expands, COVID-19 rates are high. This week Teton County said it has met the CDC's red level for high-risk transmission. County Public Health Response Coordinator Rachael Wheeler told Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck that they are trying to be transparent about the risk level.

Rachael Wheeler: We're trying to just streamline and align with the CDC. So people can still go to our dashboard and see what risk level we're in. And at this time, especially with the Delta Variant and people having been able to get COVID vaccines, you know, we're in a new place and also a similar place than we were last year. And we do feel that looking at transmission or the spread of COVID-19 in the community, allows people to take the proper precautions, preventative measures or make decisions about themselves and their families when they decide to do different activities.

Bob Beck: I know a number of counties are probably going to be resistant to mask mandates, you have been a little more aggressive up in Teton County, what do you anticipate might be forthcoming?

RW: At this time, we're just looking at the data every day. And we are at this point encouraging community members to wear masks in public indoor spaces. That's the same guidance that the CDC is giving out. And I don't know what we'll see in the coming weeks. But that's what I know now.

BB: Let me ask you about where some of the transmission is coming from. I don't want to blame outsiders. But I am curious, with all the tourists that you have in Teton County, could that be where the problem area might be? Because you do have so many local folks vaccinated up there?

RW: So we look at the total number of COVID-19 cases that we receive in Teton County. And then we separate that out from community members. And then also people who are not community members that tested positive. We have a lot of workers who don't technically live in Teton County, but may have tested up here while they're at work. We do have visitors and then just others who are testing here. So it's hard to say if it's just visitors. But I can say that we are still seeing a lot of COVID-19 cases in our community and community members are spreading it to other community members. It's really hard to say if this is a chicken or an egg scenario, because our community members are also traveling themselves. So it's hard to say if this is just a visitor problem, or a resident problem,

BB: It's amazing to me when you see your numbers and you look at the vaccination rate. Have you scratched your head on this one as well?

RW: It's always a head-scratcher. I think you know things are constantly changing. I would say the Delta variant has definitely made things more interesting. Especially because studies are showing that people have a much higher viral load. What we are seeing, though, is that even if the vaccinated individual tests positive, their viral load for COVID-19 drops really quickly compared to those who are unvaccinated. And our epidemiologist ran some numbers for us yesterday. And at this point, you're two times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 if you're unvaccinated than someone who was vaccinated. And we are seeing that people who are vaccinated, yes, you may get sick. But just to remind everyone, the goal of these vaccines was really to make sure it made it so people aren't dying from COVID or needing to be hospitalized from COVID. And we are seeing that from the vaccine.

BB: I know in the fall, you'll tend to get older people like myself, travel up your way and that population has tended to be more vaccinated. Could this lead you to anticipate that the numbers will go down or are you not sure?

RW: From what we're seeing around the country with the Delta variants, I expect that our cases may continue to climb for a little longer until they drop. Teton County school district will be starting in a couple of weeks and that'll be interesting to see if we get more cases and younger students, once that starts. But I would say we all know the preventative measures to try to reduce our case counts, and that's to wear a mask in a public indoor setting. Please stay home if you're sick and get tested. That's really the only way to know if you have COVID-19 or if you have just a cold.

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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