Fears are mounting that Americans will need to carry a face mask when they go on vacation this summer despite Covid deaths running at less than a third of the peak last summer.
Coverings were abandoned across much of the country in April when a judge struck down requirements for them to still be used on public transport.
But with cases now rising across three in five U.S. states amid the arrival of yet another Omicron variant, national parks are again starting to dust off their mask mandates.
Yellowstone became the fourth to re-impose the requirement yesterday for everyone over the age of two including the vaccinated, applying to indoor areas — including ticket offices, cafes and restaurants. Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Grand Teton brought back their mandates last month.
An expert told DailyMail.com today face masks were ‘still needed’ because too few Americans were vaccinated against the virus and to avoid ‘surges’ in staff absences should many people catch the virus.
The U.S. is currently recording about 330 Covid deaths a day, far below the tally of 1,000 every 24 hours that was being registered at the peak of the summer outbreak last August. Cases are rising in 36 states compared to the same time two weeks ago.
Yellowstone said it had brought back face masks ‘in line with CDC guidance’, warning they were now required in ‘all indoor common areas regardless of vaccination status’.
America’s national parks are following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) community level transmission measures when determining which rules to impose.
This means that if a county hits the ‘high’ threshold — when more than 10 Covid admissions per 100,000 people are being recorded daily — face masks will again be required.
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Grand Teton was the first national park to bring back face masks for indoor spaces on June 13, followed by Yosemite on June 23 and Grand Canyon on June 30.
Dr Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the CUNY Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health in New York City, warned the parks could also start reducing ticket sales and restaurant seating to control the virus.
But he added it was unlikely this would take place because there is ‘little appetite’ for further restrictions.
Asked whether face masks were still needed in national parks, he told DailyMail.com: ‘I do think it is still needed for indoor spaces.
‘We are at a place where transmission is high even by the official counts, although it is likely much higher.
‘If you factor in how the official counts are really under-representing the magnitude of the problem, and that it’s still a time where there are a lot of people that are unvaccinated… it means that when it comes to public settings and places where people have to go such as hospitals or national parks we need to afford everybody the safety that comes with masking.’
Nash has already received three doses of the Covid vaccine, and is still wearing face masks when he visits grocery stores and on public transport.
He told DailyMail.com he had no plans to cancel any summer holidays this year, and that he was planning to visit parks around New York State and Connecticut for hiking.
Out of America’s ten most visited national parks, four are currently requiring face masks.
Yellowstone straddles five counties, of which three are currently ‘high’ Covid transmission areas.
Teton County — where Grand Teton national park is based — has the highest Covid infection rate across Wyoming with 460 cases per 100,000 people being recorded. Its Covid admission rate is 17 patients per 100,000 people.
In Mariposa County, California — home of Yosemite — the infection rate is 465 per 100,000, while the hospitalization rate is 14.8.
And in Coconino County, Arizona — where Grand Canyon national park is based — the Covid rate is 242 cases per 100,000, while the hospitalization rate is 10.4.
The other six parks currently say face masks are optional for visitors to wear in indoor spaces. But Zion national park spans areas that are now at a ‘moderate’ Covid alert level.
It comes as America’s Covid cases begin to flatline with 110,000 infections now being recorded every day on average, barely a change from the same time last week.
But there are mounting concerns that more transmissible Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 — which are now dominant across the country — will spark another wave of infections.
There are about 330 fatalities from the virus being registered daily, barely a change from the 376 every 24 hours last Wednesday.
Across the states, 36 are now registering a gradual climb in Covid infections. Utah (106 percent jump on two weeks ago), Oklahoma (91 percent) and Minnesota (90 percent) are registering the biggest upticks.
At the other end of the scale cases are falling fastest in Connecticut (down 31 percent), Nevada (down 24 percent) and Michigan (also down 24 percent).