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President Biden signs order requiring masks in National Parks

Grand Canyon hikers wear masks on the South Kaibab Trail Dec. 10. Masks are now required on all federal lands.(Wendy Howell/WGCN)

Grand Canyon hikers wear masks on the South Kaibab Trail Dec. 10. Masks are now required on all federal lands.(Wendy Howell/WGCN)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. —Visiting Grand Canyon National Park? You better bring a mask.

President Joe Biden rolled out several executive orders last week, which included nationwide mask mandates in federal buildings and on federal lands.

These mandates are to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Wearing masks isn’t a partisan issue — it’s a patriotic act that can save countless lives,” Biden said on Twitter. “That’s why I signed an executive order today issuing a mask mandate on federal property. It’s time to mask up, America.”

The order said the heads of all executive departments of the federal government should immediately take action to instruct federal employees, federal contractors and others in federal buildings or federal lands to comply with CDC guidelines with respect to wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and other public health measures.

Although the Grand Canyon has not made a public announcement about the new mandate, the park said the executive order was made official in the Federal Register Jan. 25.

“We expect we will get more guidance from the acting NPS Director shortly,” said Grand Canyon National Park Public Affairs Specialist Joelle Baird. “But until then we do not have any additional information to share.”

The federal government owns about 640 million acres of land in the United States, with the majority of the acreage being located in Alaska and the Western states.

The majority of federal lands are administered by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. An additional 11.4 million acres of land is owned by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The National Park Service manages about 500 million acres under the Department of the Interior, which includes 423 units.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the National Park Service has encouraged the public to adopt social distancing practices when visiting parks and encourages visitors to follow CDC and state and local guidance to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Several National Park Service units employed restrictions or enacted closures at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2002. Grand Canyon National Park closed from April 1 to May 15, 2020 to mitigate the spread of the virus. When the park reopened, services were limited and continue to be limited today.

“This initial reopening phase will increase access to our public lands in a responsible way by offering the main feature of the park for the public, the view of the Canyon, while reducing the potential exposure of COVID-19 to our nearly 2,500 residents,” Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Ed Keable said in a press release at that time.

With many NPS areas remaining open throughout the pandemic, some people were concerned about the potential spread of coronavirus to park employees and concessions employees who came face to face with the nearly 330 million NPS visitors from around the globe.

“Park managers continue to examine each facility function and service provided to align with local conditions,” the National Park Service said on its website. “Modifications to park operations are continually evaluated and adjusted on a park-by-park basis with the support of NPS and Department of the Interior leadership.”

Members of the Coalition to Protect the National Parks expressed their frustration with the lack of protection given to federal employees under the Trump administration.

“Nowhere has the disregard for employees been more obvious than in the administration’s refusal to disclose the number of employees infected with the COVID-19 virus and the parks in which they work, or its requirement that our national parks reopen without adequately protecting the health and safety of park employees from visitors who disregard public health directives,” the Coalition said in a letter to the Biden administration.

Grand Canyon National Park has recorded 140 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Arizona currently has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the country with 95 per 100,000 people. There have been 727,895 confirmed cases, including 12,238 deaths in Arizona.

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