While officials have mostly relaxed pandemic restrictions in recent months, national parks like Great Sand Dunes have had to reinstate mask mandates to help keep the spread of COVID-19 to a minimum.
According to Colorado’s COVID data, Saguache and Alamosa – the counties that encompass Great Sand Dunes National Park – have been experiencing a higher level of cases within the past week. The One-Week Cumulative Incidence Rate demonstrated that for every 100,000 people, Saguache saw more than 50 cases of COVID-19, considered medium risk. Meanwhile, Alamosa saw more than 100, considered high risk. Likewise, CPR News reported that hospitalizations rose to 200 for the first time since August. This is up 35 hospitalizations from last week.
To combat the rising case numbers, the national park will temporarily require both staff members and visitors to wear masks while inside any of the affiliated buildings. This includes the visitor center and any shuttles or public transportation within the park.
“Masking requirements will vary by park based on local conditions,” the park stated on its website. “In areas CDC identifies as high COVID-19 community level, masks are required for everyone in all NPS buildings, regardless of vaccination status.”
Colorado Medical Officials Believe Travel and Cold Weather Are Behind Recent COVID-19 Spike
Likely, the spike in cases has to do with the holiday season and the travel and interaction that accompanies it.
“We do believe that we are now seeing a defined upward trend,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist. “The percent positivity in Colorado is increasing, and cases and hospitalizations in Colorado have increased slightly in the last few weeks.”
Dr. Michelle Barron, an infectious disease expert at UCHealth, also pointed to the dropping temperatures as another catalyst. The recent winter weather has pushed more folks inside for longer, creating higher risk for contagion.
“Respiratory viral season has begun, and it’s begun with a vengeance,” she said. “It’s what we see with the changing seasons, right?”
Great Sand Dunes Isn’t the Only National Park to Require Masks Lately
Great Sand Dunes is just one of many national parks that have kept a close eye on COVID-19 case numbers. Back in August, when many states saw another spike in viral cases, Shenandoah, too, began to require masks again.
At the time, Superintendent Pat Kenney explained, “We monitor local community levels and respond when transmission levels are high. The trigger to require masking is when the majority of the counties that the Park resides in move into high transmission status.”
Just like Great Sand Dunes, Shenandoah instructed both staff and visitors to follow the mask mandate. This meant “Masks must cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly around the nose and chin with no large gaps around the sides of the face. Masks not designed to be protective, masks with ventilation valves, and face shields do not meet the requirement.”