The National Park Service on Tuesday implemented a mask mandate across all of its sites and facilities, including trails and other outdoor attractions where visitors are unable to maintain social distancing.
The move comes a year into the United States’ battle against the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far killed more than 445,000 Americans and infected more than 26 million, and is part of broader efforts by the Biden administration to slow the spread of the disease. It supports the executive order that President Joe Biden signed his first day in office requiring Americans to wear face coverings on all federal property.
“Getting outside and enjoying our public lands is essential to improving mental and physical health, but we all need to work together to recreate responsibly,” Capt. Sara Newman, director of the NPS Office of Public Health, said in a statement.
The policy applies to all employees, visitors and contractors at parks, facilities and monuments nationwide. The agency noted in its announcement that face coverings will be required in all indoor facilities and at often-crowded outdoor areas, including narrow hiking trails and scenic overlooks.
“Park rangers are on duty to uphold normal rules and regulations as well as this requirement and may issue citations as appropriate for anyone in violation,” an NPS spokesperson told HuffPost.
Tuesday’s move stands in contrast to NPS’s early response to the coronavirus outbreak under former President Donald Trump.
As COVID-19 cases spiked in March 2020, the Trump administration resisted closing park services. Then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt downplayed the threat in guidance to agency staff on March 9, writing that “this virus is NOT currently spreading widely in the United States, and most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus.” By mid-March, several national park sites and services were shuttered.
The Trump administration’s botched government response to the coronavirus pandemic included turning mask-wearing into a political issue. Members of Trump’s Cabinet and other high-ranking administration officials repeatedly refused to wear masks in public.
In May, for example, Bernhardt posted a picture of himself ― maskless and not social distancing ― during a visit with rangers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with the words “please social distance.” And in December, the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., was forced to close after Bernhardt led a private tour of the monument and subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus.
Biden has slammed Trump’s pandemic response as “dismal” and made combatting the COVID-19 crisis his top priority. Along with pushing a $1.9 trillion economic relief package, he has pleaded with Americans to wear masks to protect themselves and their neighbors.
“The masks have become a partisan issue, unfortunately. But it’s a patriotic act,” Biden said at an executive order signing event last month. “If we do this as Americans, the experts say by wearing a mask from now until April, we’d save more than 50,000 lives going forward. 50,000 lives. So I’m asking every American to mask up for the next 100 days.”
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