National Park Service reinstates mask mandate

By Rob Hotakainen | 08/17/2021 02:02 PM EDT

Visitors wear face masks at a lookout point in Joshua Tree National Park on May 18, 2020

Visitors wear face masks at a lookout point in Joshua Tree National Park on May 18, 2020. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Once again, masks are a must if you’re headed to a national park.

The National Park Service reimposed its mask mandate yesterday due to the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant.

NPS officials said they will require masks to be worn by employees and visitors in park buildings and crowded outdoor spaces.


The mandate will apply to everyone over the age of 2 at the 423 NPS sites, regardless of vaccination status or community transmission levels.

That’s consistent with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which changed its recommendations on indoor masking as COVID-19 cases continue to increase.

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

NPS officials said the mask mandate would remain in effect until further notice, applying to all buildings and in outdoor spaces where it’s impossible to physically distance, such as on overlooks or narrow trails.

“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. This simple act of kindness allows us to be safe while we continue to enjoy the benefits of our national parks,” said Capt. Maria Said, an epidemiologist in the NPS Office of Public Health and a member of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Earlier this month, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said that 35 department employees had died from COVID-19 and that more than 4,000 had been infected since the start of the pandemic (Greenwire, Aug. 6).

In a memo to workers, Haaland said the figures for “our agency family” served as a reminder of the need to remain cautious.

“The numbers are going up,” she said. “It is difficult to learn of the rise in infections, but we have a sacred responsibility as public servants to always take measures to minimize risk to our coworkers, families and loved ones.”

The park service first imposed a mask mandate shortly after President Biden took office in January.