A cascade of park closures swept the nation a mere week after President Trump and Interior Secretary Bernhardt announced they would waive national park entrance fees and encouraged visitors and tourism to some of the country’s least medically-equipped areas. Both have remained silent as state and local officials, medical professionals, and park employees deal with the heightened risks and plead with officials to keep tourists and crowds at bay.
“Guidance, leadership, and consistency are all part of the job Americans expect from their officials in times of crisis. President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt are failing to provide leadership and have remained silent after their careless gimmick forced medical professionals and local and state officials to plead with park officials to take corrective action in order to protect public health,” said Jayson O’Neill, Director of Western Values Project. “Calling for national park closures and triaging the chaos and confusion this stunt caused is not what medical professionals should be dealing with during this crisis.”
National parks from Yellowstone and Grand Teton in Wyoming and Montana to Yosemite in California and Rocky Mountain in Colorado announced complete closures with other restrictions sweeping the other 419 parks and National Park Service sites across the nation.
Astonishingly, Interior’s leadership has not commented on the reckless decision as of yesterday and they have given little public guidance to people or park officials outside of White House and CDC directives and the memorandum issued by Secretary Bernhardt to all Interior employees on Sunday. At least one park employee has already quit over concerns that the agency was inadequate in keeping employees safe and others have resigned to the reality that it is not a matter of if, but when they contract the virus.
Prior to the Trump administration waiving fees, medical professionals in Moab, Utah, a popular tourist destination near Arches National Park, pleaded with officials to stem the flow of tourists and visitors in order to avoid additional risks and strains on limited medical resources. Similar requests from local officials and medical professionals near other popular parks came on Monday citing limited medical supplies for even local populations.
“Thankfully park superintendents are listening and taking corrective measures to mitigate health risks. We can only speculate if a Senate-confirmed national parks’ director providing leadership or taking a pause before making this rash decision could have avoided closures but both sure couldn’t have hurt,” said O’Neill.
Similarly, Navajo leaders banned travel to the Nation after two residents tested positive for the coronavirus. Tribal medical professionals are already warning that they ‘won’t have enough resources.’ Congressional leaders and Native American communities across the country have been calling on the Trump administration to provide needed medical and economic assistance.