National Parks in the south and western United States are amending their procedures and operations on a case-by-case basis to adjust to the rising number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus, a decision being met with condemnation from a Democratic House committee chairman.
Zion National Park in Utah is reducing visitors with a first-come, first-served ticketing system while Yosemite National Park in California is limiting reservations. The Grand Canyon in Arizona has closed some entrances, shops and visitors’ centers, and curtailed trips down the Colorado River ostensibly to protect Native American communities nearby.“With the support of Department of the Interior and National Park Service leadership, park superintendents are making decisions to modify operations for facilities and programs based on federal and state public health guidance,” the National Park Service said in a statement to The New York Times.
The changes are intended to protect the visitors and the communities surrounding the parks, the Times said.
The decision not to close the parks is being derided by Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva, the chairman of the House natural resources committee.
“It’s the same situation in all the parks,” he told the Times. “The administration (is) trying to shoehorn political and economic considerations into its decisions, and the public health taking a back seat to those discussions.”
Tens of thousands have visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho since it began a phased reopening on May 18. Besides limiting reservations, the park is testing both employees and its wastewater system for indications of the virus.
The health office for Teton County in Wyoming, Dr. Travis Riddell, said he cannot pinpoint the park as a source of a known outbreak, but still tied it “with the onset of tourist season here.”
Teton county includes not only Yellowstone but the Grand Teton National Park as well.
In Texas, Big Bend National Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker reopened his facility on June 1, but shut it down a month later for two weeks after a staff member tested positive for the virus.
“There is a huge burden on me to make as wise a decision as I can,” Krumenaker said. “I fully accept the responsibility of this job, which involves making these really tough decisions.
“But there is no playbook.”
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