Interior Secretary David Bernhardt just announced that the Trump administration would be suspending park entrance fees during the coronavirus health crisis as a medical director in a popular national park tourist destination is pleading with officials to do more to stop the inflow of people to rural areas with limited resources.
“This order flies in the face of direct pleas from medical professionals in rural areas with serious concerns about their ability to deal with the coronavirus health crisis,” said Western Values Project Director Jayson O’Neill. “The last thing medical providers in rural areas should be concerned about is an inundation of visitors that could severely strain medical resources based on Bernhardt’s reckless order. Secretary Bernhardt needs to show leadership, not shoot from the hip. But without a confirmed National Parks Service Director, that leadership is clearly lacking.”
Just a week ago, Sec. Bernhardt issued an agency-wide memo downplaying the severity of the crisis, foreshadowing the cavalier approach and lack of preparedness by the Trump administration. National parks across the country have been dangerously slow in their response to the coronavirus outbreak, causing confusion and uncertainty. As of today, the Interior Department and National Park Service finally announced mandatory facility closures.
In Response To Coronavirus, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt Announced He Would Waive Park Entrance Fees To Allow For “Special Outdoor Experiences.” “The secretary of the interior has announced entrance fees will be waived for national parks as the country battles coronavirus. ‘Our vast public lands that are overseen by the Department offer special outdoor experiences to recreate, embrace nature and implement some social distancing,’ secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.” [The Guardian, 03/18/20]
Health Officials In Moab, Utah Are Calling For A Halt To Overnight Park Visitors Because Their Hospital Can’t Handle An Outbreak. “Health officials in Utah’s national parks hotspot of Moab ordered a halt to new overnight tourists starting late Tuesday, after hospital officials said their rural facility couldn’t handle an outbreak of the new coronavirus. As the number of statewide cases grew to more than 50, the Southeastern Utah Health Department issued an order barring anyone except work travelers and locals from overnight lodging, including camping. Those already in hotels before Tuesday night can stay through the duration of their reservation.” [Associated Press, 03/17/20]
Dr. Dylan Cole Of Moab Regional Hospital Said That “Discouraging Tourism Is Necessary To Slow The Spread Of The Virus.” “‘The best thing we could all do is stay at home,’ Dr. Dylan Cole said. ‘I don’t think this is the time to encourage people to take cross-country road trips.’ […] Despite the negative economic impact coronavirus is having on tourism towns like Moab, Dr. Cole said that discouraging tourism is necessary to help slow the spread of the virus. ‘We are sending a strong message to stay home,’ Cole said. ‘And [Moab] is full of tourists. It is really jaw-dropping to me.’” [KUER, 03/17/20]
Deputy Secretary Katherine MacGregor Is Overseeing Interior’s Coronavirus Preparation And Response Efforts. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have explained that there is no widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States at this time. Nevertheless, over the last couple of weeks, appropriate Departmental, Bureau, and Office personnel who are responsible for managing and supporting activities to prevent, protect against, mitigate, and respond to such hazards have been actively engaged. In essence, the coordination that should happen throughout Government when a hazard takes place is happening, and the Department is part of those efforts. To ensure continuous engagement by senior leadership, I have assigned Deputy Secretary MacGregor to serve as the lead in overseeing our COVID-19 preparation and response efforts.” [Department of the Interior, 03/09/20]
Katherine MacGregor Previously Pushed For A Public Health Study On The Health Impacts Of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining To Be Canceled. “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke canceled the government-funded study on the health impacts of the controversial mining technique used in Appalachia last August as part of what officials said was an agency-wide review of grants in excess of $100,000. The study was by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Mountaintop removal is a form of surface mining in which explosives are used to extract coal from mountaintops and ridgelines. It has raised concern about impacts on rivers and streams, and on human health in surrounding communities. When the Interior Department was asked by the inspector general to detail the reasons for its decision to cancel the study, it could not produce any evidence of a formal review, the watchdog said in its report. […] A report this week by magazine Pacific Standard showed that Katharine MacGregor, deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management at Interior, was pushing for the study to be suspended after meetings with coal industry groups, according to public records it obtained.” [Reuters, 06/12/18]