While several parks are closing visitor centers and suspending certain services and facilities, the National Parks Service said all outdoor spaces that can adhere to the latest guidance from the White House and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) will remain open to the public, at least for now. The NPS said it is modifying operations until further notice for facilities and programs that cannot adhere to this guidance.
“The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers and partners is the priority of the National Park Service,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said. “Park superintendents are empowered to modify their operations, including closing facilities and cancelling programs, to address the spread of the coronavirus.”
Some units in major U.S. cities and areas of higher contagion have been temporarily closed, such as Golden Gate National Recreation Area, in the Bay Area; the National Mall and Memorial Parks, in Washington, D.C.; and the Statue of Liberty National Monument, in New York City. Elsewhere, certain parks have suspended services and closed certain facilities on a case-by-case basis. As early as last week, park superintendents were told that they did not have the authority to close their facilities, but that changed Tuesday when NPS decided to give individual parks authority to close visitor centers and other facilities and take other preventative actions.
“The NPS is working with federal, state, and local authorities, while we as a nation respond to this public health challenge,” NPS deputy director David Vela said in a press release. “Park superintendents are assessing their operations now to determine how best to protect the people and their parks going forward.”
The NPS urges visitors to do their part when visiting a park and to follow CDC guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by maintaining a safe distance between yourself and other groups; washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; and most importantly, staying home if you feel sick.
“For high-risk populations, such as the elderly and people with underlying conditions, we ask that they take extra caution and follow CDC guidance for those at higher risk of serious illness,” said the NPS.
Earlier this week, Howard Frumkin, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at the University of Washington School of Public Health, told Outside that he believes it’s a good thing the parks have remained open. “In addition to the risk of infection, the other problems we’re all facing, in terms of health and well-being, are anxiety and social isolation. We know that going to the outdoors is pretty effective at addressing both of those problems.”
However, Frumkin added, “When I speak positively about getting into the outdoors, what I have in mind is small groups of people who can leave space between themselves going along trails. I think crowds are to be avoided now. Nothing that I say, when I’m recommending time in the outdoors, should be seen as an alternative to any of the standard public-health recommendations. It’s compatible with doing all the things we need to do, but it’s kind of an underappreciated, but potentially very substantial, source of relief and benefit at times like this.”
Several states, meanwhile, including Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and Pennsylvania, have closed state-park systems in response to the COVID-19.