SPRINGDALE (ABC4 News) – As more and more park officials and locals throughout the country are urging the Department of the Interior (DOI) to shut down all parks, the National Park Service confirmed this week that at least seven of its federal employees, not including its contractors and concessionaires, have tested positive for COVID-19.
The National Park Service has not identified where the infected employees work, and Zion National Park officials would not confirm with ABC4 News if any of its employees have tested positive for the virus.
Mayor of Springdale says he’s now drafted a letter to Zion’s superintendent asking for the park to close indefinitely.
Springdale Mayor Stan Smith told ABC4 News he’s drafted a letter, which is currently under legal counsel, to Zion’s superintendent asking for the park to close indefinitely. Smith said it’s a difficult decision, as his city’s economy revolves around Zion National Park, but emphasized that the health of his citizens comes first.
Zion National Park spokeswoman Aly Baltrus said park officials have taken proactive steps to curb the spread of the virus, including creating virtual visitor centers, shutting down the Lodge, and closing Angels Landing. Baltrus said she is still concerned that current visitation patterns are not meeting current CDC guidelines on social distancing.
“We are concerned, and people really need to take responsibility for creating their own social distancing,” Baltrus said.
The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, an organization representing about 1,800 current and former park employees, has also called on the DOI to close all parks to protect staffers, including Zion National Park due to confirmed cases of community spread in Washington County.
Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, sent a letter Tuesday to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt urging him to close the country’s national parks to protect NPS employees and help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The letter comes after Bernhardt ordered the National Park Service to waive all entry fees to America’s public lands in an effort to facilitate social distancing. Advocates now say his decision spurred thousands of additional visitors at America’s national parks.
Francis told ABC4 News that his organization has members who have worked for the National Park Service for decades and have thousands of cumulative hours of experience, and it’s a decision that will protect staffers, visitors, and communities throughout the country.
“Our country will have a better chance of ending this pandemic with fewer fatalities,” Francis said. “We hope that the Secretary will reconsider keeping parks open, such as Shenandoah, Zion, and many others.”
Francis added that he hopes the parks could re-open in the event that the pandemic subsides in the summer.
The National Park Service has said it closes parks on a case by case basis in consultation with state and local governments.
The National Park Service received a letter Wednesday from the Health and Human Services Director and Chief Health Officer for Coconino County recommending the full closure of Grand Canyon National Park.
Upon receiving this request from the local health department, acting Superintendent Mary Risser, with the support of the NPS Deputy Director, Operations, David Vela and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, made the decision to immediately close the park until further notice.
“The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service will continue to follow the guidance of state and local health officials in making determinations about our operations,” Secretary Bernhardt said. “As soon as we received the letter from the Health and Human Services Director and Chief Health Officer for Coconino County recommending the closure of Grand Canyon National Park, we closed the park.”