Officials at the Great Smoky Mountain national park have once again required that face masks be worn inside the park. The new mandate comes as the CDC sees a spike in COVID-19 cases in several East Tennessee counties.
On Wednesday, park officials announced via its website’s alerts page that it would now require masks in public facilities everywhere. They cited the info from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines as their reasoning for the mandate.
“Consistent with CDC guidance regarding areas of substantial or high transmission, visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask inside all park buildings,” the announcement stated.
The Tennessee counties surrounding the park include Blount, Cocke, and Sevier. They are considered high-risk areas by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, Knox County is also a high transmission zone.
The CDC uses hospitalization data, and new case counts to determine the safety level in each community. In “high” zones, masks are recommended indoors, and those at risk should be extra careful.
“Effective immediately and until further notice, face masks are now required in all park facilities to protect the health and safety of you, your co-workers, partners, contractors, and park visitors,” an email from the park’s volunteer office reads.
Masks once again required in Great Smoky Mountains National Park regardless of vaccination status
Additionally, masks are required regardless of whether or not one has received a vaccination. Moreover, the need for a mask mandate will be accessed each week based on CDC data, according to park officials.
Since the NPS federal mask mandate was reversed earlier this year, public lands managers delegated the authority to make decisions based on site-level conditions, according to Dana Soehn, management assistant for the National Park Service.
“We have been continually monitoring the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker to ascertain current COVID-19 transmission levels within the six local counties that surround the Park to assess the need for operational changes,” Soehn said.
She added, “Per NPS policy and the Smokies Adaptive Operations COVID-19 Plan, masks are required in all federal buildings if one county within the park is in the HIGH transmission level for seven consecutive days.”
The CDC divides every county in the country into three categories of COVID-19 risk: high, medium, and low.
Per reports from Soehn, on Aug. 4, the infection rate for the Tennessee counties of Blount and Sevier was recorded as high.
“We will continue to monitor community transmission levels and if rates fall back to medium or low for Blount and Sevier Counties for seven consecutive days, we will remove the masking requirement,” NPS said in their statement.
Great Smoky Mountains park officials first implemented the mask requirement within the park in January 2021. It was dropped a few months later. However, it returned in August 2021 as cases of the Omicron variant began to appear.