Phil Francis, Chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, issued a statement regarding the safety of National Park Service (NPS) frontline employees as the country continues to navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic:
“We applaud the Biden administration’s decision to require the Federal workforce and individuals interacting with the Federal workforce to wear face masks, maintain physical distance, and adhere to other public health measures in Federal buildings and on Federal lands, including in our national parks.
As implemented in parks, this means that face masks are required in all NPS buildings and facilities, including concessioner-operated facilities. Masks are also required on NPS-managed lands when physical distancing cannot be maintained, including narrow or busy trails, overlooks, and historic homes.
While the latest NPS COVID-19 update states that, “the NPS issues protective equipment to employees performing critical functions like visitor and resource protection, EMS, and facility maintenance, among others,” we urge the administration to also prioritize the safety of NPS frontline, non-emergency employees who have routine contact with park visitors from all over the country. Fee collectors, visitor center information desk workers, interpretive rangers, and others who work regularly with the public should be included in high-priority PPE purchases, on-demand testing, and virus-protection training as those programs are developed.
NPS is now helping implement the National Strategy for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness by deploying NPS EMS personnel to administer COVID-19 vaccines at designated FEMA mass vaccination sites. While we applaud the Park Service’s support of this program, the agency must also recognize that these interactions introduce new risks of infection not only to NPS EMS personnel giving vaccinations, but also potentially to their co-workers upon their return to the park.
Ideally, NPS EMS personnel administering vaccinations should be a high priority to receive vaccinations themselves if they have not already. In addition, we urge the NPS to consider frontline non-emergency employees, who routinely contact park visitors in a variety of situations, as a priority for vaccinations as well.
We thank the Biden administration for their actions in fighting the pandemic so far and urge them to continue to invest in the health and well-being of Federal employees as they help to serve visitors and protect our parks.”