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In New Letter, Chair Grijalva Urges President-Elect Biden to Prioritize Health of Public Lands Employees and Visitors as Pandemic Continues to Rage

12.16.20

Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) wrote to President-elect Joe Biden this morning urging him to extend his mask-wearing mandate, initially announced as applying to all federal buildings, to federally managed public lands sites as well. In the letter, available at http://bit.ly/3qYaqC9, Grijalva notes that the Trump administration’s Interior Department has faced heavy criticism for inconsistent regulations, arbitrary opening and closing protocols, and failures to provide protective equipment to stakeholders throughout the pandemic.

Approximately 150 National Park Service employees nationwide tested positive for COVID-19 between March and September, Grijalva notes, making it all the more urgent for public lands agencies and personnel to enforce strict health guidelines for the foreseeable future. Grijalva praises Biden’s proposed 100-day mask-wearing mandate for federal buildings and proposes it be used as a template for keeping public lands employees safe.

“Ensuring that this mandate is enforceable and that it extends to individuals on all federally owned public lands is crucial and a good step towards protecting agency staff, visitors, and public health at large,” Grijalva writes. “It is also vital that your administration reinstate the authority for park superintendents to close sites or sections of parks in response to COVID-19 outbreaks and meaningfully consult with local communities regarding increased public access and COVID-19 risks.”

Grijalva and other Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee wrote to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on multiple occasions seeking more information about how the Trump administration was deciding which parks to close or keep open, especially when it became apparent that some locations – like Grand Canyon National Park – were held open beyond any reasonable public safety threshold. A contractor at Grand Canyon tested positive for COVID-19 after Grijalva urged that it be closed to protect public safety.

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