Jackson, whole: Community persists with an uncertain future

COVID-19 upends a Wyoming resort town.


“Living in this amazing community that has so many helpful and resourceful people, I thought we could all get together. My idea was to get a mask in everyone’s hands that needs one or would like one. We’ve delivered masks to the senior center, grocery stores, as well as the hospital staff.”Keegan Pfeil, an emergency room nurse at St. John’s Health, a search and rescue volunteer and founder of the Jackson Hole Community Mask Project, which has organized the creation and donation of thousands of masks for hospital employees and other community members working in high-risk environments. 

During a typical spring, the small resort town of Jackson, Wyoming, would be gearing up for a lively summer tourist season. Thousands of visitors come here to climb the towering peaks of the Teton Range, raft the Snake River and mountain bike miles of trails — activity that contributes substantially to the town’s economy.

But this year, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, popular destinations like Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks have closed, with no set date to reopen, and the Jackson Hole Tourism Bureau has asked visitors to reschedule their trips. As a result, many locals have been laid off, businesses are struggling and the normally bustling town is eerily quiet.

For people like Eric and Zarina Sakai, who own and operate a local restaurant, the changes add up to a substantial loss in income. “Since the pandemic began, our sales are down by 65 to 70%,” said Eric Sakai. In response, community members are taking action. Keegan Pfeil, for example, who is an ER nurse, started the Jackson Hole Community Mask Project, where locals make face coverings for hospital employees and patients. “Hopefully, we’re slowing the spread of COVID,” said Pfeil, who has lived in Jackson for 18 years. “I’m very attached to the community; it’s a phenomenal community with a lot of wonderful people who want to help.” —Helen Santoro

“We started early, because we have a lot of colleagues who are in the cities hit hard. We knew what was coming. So we decided to stop dine-in service four days before the mandate came out. Once we shut our doors, Eric and I fully sanitized the entire restaurant, ceiling to floor. Since we’ve closed until now, nobody has come in here. It’s only us. You can never be perfect, but you have to take every precaution you can. We thought there was a bigger responsibility, not just to the community, but to humanity.”Eric and Zarina Sakai, among the first restaurant owners in the area to close their doors and take precautionary measures. They now offer contact-free curbside pickup, and they added essentials to their menu — like tissues, paper towels, bleach, sanitizer spray and dish soap — that they could still order through their vendors.

“My family, my kids, everyone, said to me, ‘Mom, please rest!’ But the truth is with this situation that we are living, I cannot be there, watching television or walking or relaxing. It’s that there are many people that need masks. It’s a way of saying, I am going to save lives.”Carmen Gloria Rodriguez Sanzana, who is originally from Chile, worked at Blue Spruce Cleaners as a seamstress. Because there wasn't enough work for her at the cleaners, she found herself bored at home and decided to make face masks. On the wall in her living room, below pictures of her grandson and son, Carmen keeps a list of how many masks she’s made for the hospital. In over two weeks, Carmen made over 1,000 masks for St. John’s Health. 

“That’s the thing about a ranch. The cows were bred in June. They have a 285-day gestation period. They are going to calve with the pandemic or not. There’s three of us that handle the whole ranch operation. We’ve got to get the cows through winter, no matter what happens. If we all get sick, we will have to work through it, because the cows won’t stop calving.” —Chase Lockhart, a sixth-generation rancher who works with a small team to sell meat to local restaurants and hotels. That part of his business has been devastated.

“The coronavirus has affected us a lot because, well, truthfully, we live from work. We are accustomed to work every day; it is our routine. We are worried because we don’t know in reality when it will end, and, well, the bills have to get paid.” —Rocio Enriquez and her husband, Miguel, who both recently lost their jobs. They have a family of four to take care of, including Rocio’s 82-year-old mother and their teenage daughter, Bethany, and they are not sure when they will be able to return to work.(left)

“The hardest part about all of this is not being able to do the sports I was going to do, like track. That’s kind of hard. I was really looking forward to it.” — Bethany Enriquez, 16, is a high school athlete who recently also lost her job as a lifeguard at the Teton Country Recreation Center.(right)

“My wife and I were on vacation in northern Italy. We left three days before the first documented case. I wasn’t worried I had it, but it made me incredibly sensitized to what was going on. I saw there was a disconnect between what emergency services, government and the community was doing here. So for the first two weeks I literally worked 18 hours a day on this. The biggest challenge was getting other people to realize it had to happen right then.” — Corey Milligan, the owner of New West Knifeworks, started the ‘We are Jackson Hole’ campaign to promote social distancing and teamed up with Grand Teton Distillery to make hand sanitizer for community members. Together they distributed over 10,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and have refilling stations at various locations throughout the community. Milligan has four retail stores that are all closed right now.

“With having two knee surgeries this winter and not being able to physically do the work I do, ski instructing, I was already forced to live paycheck to paycheck. After losing my job, if it wasn’t for relief grants and government help, I’d be homeless.” —Paul Angiolillo, who worked at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ticketing office until the resort closed early on March 16.

“We all have gifts that we can share to contribute in some way to uplift the communal spirit or provide support to one another. As an artist, I felt the mural was a good way to give back. It was important to me that the hospital knew that the community was thinking about them and that their efforts were seen and acknowledged.”  —Anna Meteyer is a local artist who specializes in drawing and painting. When Meteyer heard about what was going on at the hospital, she decided to paint a chalk mural with the words “You are our light” and “Thank you” in front of St. John’s Health.(left)

“I think, right now, unity and compassion are more important than ever. It’s never been a more perfect time for the expression ‘better safe than sorry.’ Because looking back on this time, after we get through this first part, asking that question of your future self: What did you do during this time, and can you be proud of that answer? Did you think past your own needs? Did you act with courage and compassion to other people?”  —Wren Fialka, who is the founder of Spread the Love Commission, which has assembled and distributed hundreds of health and hygiene packets to Teton County, the Salt Lake area and the Wind River Reservation.(right)


Sofia Jaramillo is an outdoor adventure and documentary photographer based in Jackson, Wyoming. Jaramillo got her start in photojournalism at small-town newspapers, and now freelances for top brands and editorial outlets all over the world. You can find more of her work on Instagram @sofia_jaramillo5 or her website www.sofiajaramillophoto.com
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