National parks are open– but you should stay home

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As Covid-19 spreads, national parks are open– but you should stay home

Last week, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt directed the National Park Service to waive all entrance fees to the national parks that remain open during the Covid-19 pandemic. “This small step makes it a little easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors in our incredible National Parks,” Bernhardt said in a news release. But though the parks may be open, many are urging would-be parkgoers to stay at home.

“It is irresponsible to urge people to visit national park sites when gathering at other public spaces is no longer considered safe,” Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks told National Geographic. “We are concerned that the Secretary’s decision to waive entrance fees will lead to overcrowding and a greater risk to the health and well-being of our NPS employees and visitors.

Francis appears to be on to something. On Saturday, Shenandoah National Park shared a photo of a crowded parking lot on their Instagram page. “The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners at Shenandoah is our number one priority,” the caption said. “The CDC guidance for this pandemic includes social distancing. We are concerned that Saturday’s visitation patters were in violation of CDC recommendations. On Sunday, Madison County authorities closed access roads to Old Rag and the Whiteoak Boundary Trail because the overcrowding continued. 

It’s not just the danger of spreading the virus between national park visitors that has many on edge, but the fact that many national parks are located in rural parts of the county where a viral outbreak would put an overwhelming strain on the small hospitals that serve them. 

Last week, Moab, Utah’s medical director asked Gov. Gary Herbert to close all non-essential businesses in Moab, a small town that serves as basecamp for many of Utah’s national parks, including Arches and Canyonlands. Dr. Dylan Cole warned that Moab’s 17-bed hospital can only care for five people with critical coronavirus symptoms. “My strong concern is that we are greatly increasing the risk of a significant uptick in this viral illness,” Dr. Cole told Utah’s NPR station. “We are putting all of our health at risk.” 

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