Glacier National Park announced on Tuesday evening that masks will now be required for all people entering federal buildings in the park, regardless of vaccination status. The newly reinstated mandate was shared via the park’s social media accounts, as well as in an email to incoming visitors with reservations through private concessioners.
The recent announcement from the park comes in response to a spike in COVID cases both locally and nationally.
The National Parks Service (NPS) institutes masking requirements in its parks based on local COVID-19 Community Levels, a metric introduced earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to measure COVID-19 risk levels. Masking requirements in Glacier Park are dependent on Community Levels in Glacier and Flathead Counties, the two counties the park spans. If either county reaches a “high” Community Level, the park is required to adhere to more stringent COVID-19 guidelines.
Glacier County’s COVID-19 Community Level is currently “high,” given a recent spike in reported infections. Between May 31 and June 6, COVID-19 cases in Glacier County rose by 85%. There are currently 10 reported active cases of COVID-19 in the county; however, the increased use of at-home rapid tests to diagnose COVID cases may be leading to an underreporting of actual case numbers to local and state health departments.
Flathead County’s Community Level remains “low,” although cases have risen in recent weeks, following national trends. There are currently 86 active cases in the county. While cases have increased in Flathead County, the pace of infections has not been as rapid as in Glacier County.
In response to the recent change, Gina Kerzman, Public Affairs Officer at Glacier National Park, says that the park intends to modify park programming to “make the least amount of impact possible” on visitor experiences. Namely, Kerzman says, indoor park activities may be moved outdoors, where masks are not required.
Kerzman specifies that the mandate only applies to federal buildings in the park’s jurisdiction. Hotels, lodges, and restaurants within the park are exempt from such masking regulations and can adopt their own guidelines.
Kerzman does not expect the new requirement to affect park visitation, as the majority of attractions at the park are outdoors. She says that most visitors come to Glacier to hike and to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, rather than visit federal buildings.
Despite rising COVID-19 case counts across the western U.S., other national parks in the region have not introduced similar requirements. Masks remain optional in indoor locations at Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Mount Rainier National Parks. However, masks are required in all forms of enclosed public transportation throughout the NPS system. Until case counts allow for loosened regulations, Kerzman encourages park staff and visitors to, “Do our part to limit the spread.”