Overall visitation across the National Park Service dropped 28% systemwide in 2020 due to closures stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the 2021 season, the park service is encouraging visitors domestically and internationally to plan ahead when visiting one of the 423 national park sites across the United States.
Will the National Park Service follow COVID-19 CDC guidance for the 2021 season?
Yes, the National Park Service frames their guidance from several executive departments, which each follow CDC guidance.
WHAT WE FOUND
During a May 25 subcommittee hearing on the state of the national park system, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told the panel he predicted the 2021 season would be the “biggest season in the history of the park service.”
The subcommittee convened on May 25 to “examine the current state of the National Park System, including the impacts of COVID-19 on National Park Service operations, staff, visitation and facilities,” the committee’s website said.
“No one could have predicted the impact of COVID-19 on our society, our way of life, our economy. However, I truly believe our national parks were a refuge, they were a refuge for many Americans during the pandemic. It was good for the soul when Americans visited their national parks,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) said.
During the hearing, Shawn Benge, National Park Service deputy director of operations, said he expects in 2021 there will be significant increases in visitor numbers as COVID-mitigation efforts are reduced, vaccination levels rise and Americans increase their travel.
He said the guidance of the COVID-19 mandates, including the mask mandate, across the system is framed from presidential executive orders, Department of Interior policy, Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management Budget guidances. Each of these parties, respectively, follow CDC guidance, he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its face-mask guidance on May 13 to say people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 don’t need to wear a mask in most settings unless there’s a federal, state or local requirement. The guidance still advised people who are not vaccinated to wear a mask in most settings.
Benge said those who visit the park and employees of the park who are vaccinated will not be required to wear a mask.
“As the National Park Service monitors and responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, we work closely with the NPS Office of Public Health to use the latest science to guide our decision making,” the National Park Service website states. “Consistent with CDC recommendations, people who are not fully vaccinated (less than 2 weeks past your final dose) must continue to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces. All people, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask on all forms of public transportation and in healthcare settings on DOI lands.”
He also said there are systems in place that encourage visitors to plan their trips ahead, especially considering many national parks require reservations. A “Plan like a Park Ranger” program launched on May 27.
“We have 423 units in the National Park Service and we are extraordinarily decentralized,” Benge said. “Every park is different in terms of where they are in being operational and what they need to be operational. We do believe there are some parks where visitation will increase and we need to do what we need to do in order to be ready.
“The ‘Plan like a Park Ranger’ is a campaign that will target trip planning. This will include messages around safety, alternative parks that might be less crowded, and making sure you have a reservation before you leave out. Real-time messaging on congestion is also a tool so you know the parking lot is full before you get there. And in some cases, we are also considering timed entry and limiting numbers,” Benge added.
VERIFY asked the National Park Service for comment on proof of vaccination and if any vaccination screenings would be taking place across the park system, but had not heard back at the time of writing.
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