National parks can use local conditions to set COVID-19 mask rules, officials say


In an effort to align with new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Park Service has updated its COVID-19 mask rules to allow for variations based on local conditions.

The new policy, announced Friday, will incorporate the CDC’s COVID-19 Community Level tool, which “helps communities decide what prevention steps to take,” the Park Service said.

The CDC’s sweeping policy change opted to stop counting new infections to set safety rules and focus instead on whether local healthcare systems are in danger of being overwhelmed by severely ill COVID-19 patients. Los Angeles County, for example, dropped into the “low” category on Friday, enabling the county to lift its indoor mask mandate.

The Park Service said updates will be posted on signs in parks and on the individual parks’ websites to help visitors plan their trips. Masks will still be required on all forms of enclosed public transportation.

“As mask requirements evolve in parks, we want everyone to check the park website before heading out so that you know what to expect when you get there,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in a statement.

In areas the CDC identifies as having a high COVID-19 community level, masks are required for everyone in all buildings regardless of vaccination status, officials said.

In most low and medium COVID-19 community level areas, masks are optional, but visitors should follow signs and instructions from park staff and volunteers.

Here’s where some of California’s most visited parks land based on current data:

Yosemite

Three of the four counties touched by Yosemite National Park — Mariposa, Tuolumne and Madera — have a high community level, according to the CDC tool. Only one, Mono County, is low.

According to the park’s website, masks are required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in all public buildings, crowded outdoor spaces and enclosed buses.

Joshua Tree

San Bernardino and Riverside counties’ community levels are low, according to the CDC. The park previously mandated masks indoors, but a park official on Friday said they are currently optional.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon

Sequoia National Park is in Tulare County, where the community level is high. King’s Canyon is partly in Tulare and partly in Fresno, where the community level is medium.

Currently, masks are required inside all park buildings, according to their website.

Pinnacles

California’s newest national park has proven a popular tourist destination this year.

The park spans San Benito and Monterey counties, both of which have a low community level. However, a park official on Friday said masks are still required inside all park buildings.

Mask policies in all parks will likely be updated as the new policy rolls out, officials said.



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