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Inconsistent Mask Regulations in Parks Risk Lives

Outside Magazine – The National Park Service has abdicated responsibility for visitor safety, compromising local mandates and leaving staff and vendors to fend for themselves – “Visiting a national park this summer? The National Park Service is not requiring visitors or staff to wear face masks. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be asked to wear one. Confused? That’s only part of the problem.  “Since the park re-opened, Montana has seen one of the biggest increases of COVID-19 cases [per capita] in any state,” says a ranger at Glacier National Park, who asked to remain anonymous. “But the park doesn’t have the authority to require visitors or staff to wear masks, so we’re just asking people nicely.” Glacier and some other national parks closed to visitors in late March, following often conflicting guidance from the federal government that encouraged visitation and waiving entrance fees into the third week of that month. The park partially re-opened on June 8, joining what the park service says are “two-thirds” of its 419 units currently open. But, in line with anti-mask sentiments across the Trump administration, the public health plan implemented by the NPS does not make masks mandatory for park staff or visitors. Mask wearing is currently believed to be one of the most effective tools in preventing the explosive spread of COVID-19 across the country. According to a University of Washington report, masks are currently only worn in public by 20 to 60 percent of Americans, a practice that currently has our country on track for over 200,000 total COVID-19-related deaths by November 1. But the report determines that if 95 percent of Americans were to adopt mask wearing, close to 60,000 of those deaths could be avoided. Unfortunately, mask wearing has been heavily politicized, with President Trump notably refusing to wear one in public, barring one recent press briefing. And policies mandating their use in public places have been left up to state and local governments, and even private companies, in lieu of federal leadership on the issue. This dynamic is playing out in miniature within our national parks, causing a uniquely problematic situation. National parks are owned by the federal government, but exist inside the boundaries of states and counties, which leaves the question of whose guidelines the parks need to follow…”

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