National parks will now require masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces

Aug 17, 2021

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The National Park Service (NPS) reimplemented a mask mandate on Aug. 16 that requires all visitors and employees to wear a mask inside all NPS buildings and in crowded outdoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status, according to an announcement on Monday.

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“Visitors to national parks are coming from locations across the country, if not across the world,” NPS deputy Director Shawn Benge said in a statement. “Because of this, and recognizing that the majority of the United States is currently in substantial or high transmission categories, we are implementing a service-wide mask requirement to ensure our staff and visitors’ safety.”

Related: National park reservation requirements are changing frequently: Here’s what you need to know

The new mask requirement applies to all NPS buildings, public transportation systems and outdoor spaces where social distancing is not possible, community transmission levels notwithstanding. Contractors who work for the park service must also heed the regulations.

“Being vaccinated is the most effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers of the coronavirus. Masking in addition to being vaccinated will help prevent the spread of new variants and protect those who are more at risk of severe disease,” Capt. Maria Said, M.D., an epidemiologist in the NPS Office of Public Health and a member of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, said in a statement. “This simple act of kindness allows us to be safe while we continue to enjoy the benefits of our national parks.”

The updated mask guidance reinstates President Joe Biden’s January executive order requiring all federal workers, including the NPS, to wear masks at work to curb the spread of COVID-19, which the NPS implemented on Feb. 2.

Under former President Donald Trump, face masks at NPS facilities were not required, but rather encouraged, including in states with local mask mandates in effect.

In 2020, more than 237 million people visited the country’s national parks, a 28% decrease in attendance from 2019 due to pandemic-induced temporary park closures and restrictions. Despite the drop, park visitors have reported long wait times to enter, packed parking lots and massive crowds.

Related: Visiting a national park this summer might mean getting up before sunrise

Featured photo of Yosemite National Park by NurPhoto/Getty Images.

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