By design, national parks funnel visitors through crowded pinch points: trailheads, parking lots, public restrooms, scenic overlooks and more. It is impossible to systematically achieve Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing at these sites. Risk of asymptomatic exposure can create new rural epicenters that expand the pandemic.
Rural health clinics serving parks have little or no capacity to handle covid-19 outbreaks. Visits endanger gateway communities with few resources to combat infection of local citizens, park employees and visitors. Stress on employees is significant. The chaotic mix of closures, partial closures, park openings and ill-conceived encouragements to visit during this national emergency add to the confusion and harm.
Public health officers of the National Park Service must provide transparent and public reporting of covid-19 cases. Conservation and outdoor industry groups should make clear that public health — not short-term economic and political benefit — is paramount. Gateway community mayors and doctors should demand action to protect their citizens.
When the pandemic ends, the parks will reopen and visitors will return. Science should give Interior Department and Park Service leaders the courage to act above politics and do what is right for their employees, the American people and America’s “best idea,” and close all the national parks, now.
Gary E. Machlis, Central, S.C.
George T. Conway III’s April 1 op-ed, “Impeachment wasn’t the distraction. Trump was,” reminded us how “distracting” the impeachment was for the president, who still had time to golf and hold campaign rallies. How could he have been distracted when the “jury” foreman had assured him there would be no conviction?
I was distracted by the impeachment, vainly looking for a sign that a Republican senator other than Mitt Romney (Utah) would acknowledge the evidence of malfeasance staring them in the face. Despite that distraction, and despite not being in the public health arena, I was aware of the serious threat of the novel coronavirus when travel and large gatherings were limited in China for the Lunar New Year. No security briefings, no special training, just the ability to read and connect the dots as to what could happen in other places, including here.
Why couldn’t those with access to more targeted information have seen this and prepared? Maybe I just have a gift.
In virtually every one of the daily press briefings by the coronavirus task force, when President Trump is asked why testing was so slow in getting started in this country, he repeats that he inherited a broken system not designed to deal with a pandemic. No one ever asks him why he did not fix it in the three years he has been in charge. At this point in his tenure, he cannot simply blame his appointees’ failure to address issues of past administrations.
Kenneth Oestreicher, Rockville
When the pandemic is over, when the bodies are buried, when the health-care professionals and first responders are taking a well-deserved rest, when the grocery store cashiers and stockers are taking a well-deserved rest, when people breathe a collective sigh of relief and make a collective cry of grief, I hope all Americans reflect on how our political leaders handled this crisis.
I hope Americans will remember the leaders who gave a call to action and the leaders who minimized the real threat; the leaders who listened to experts and the leaders who failed to listen; the leaders who told the hard truths, made the hard calls, who thought not of themselves but of their fellow Americans, and the leaders who thought only of themselves, their poll numbers, their popularity, their chances of reelection. I hope Americans will remember the collaborators in a dangerous campaign of disinformation and ignorance, and the champions who asked hard questions and called for accountability.
I hope Americans will remember those leaders we trusted with our health and safety — and will remember those who served us and those who distracted and misinformed us.
Barbara Franklin, Arlington
It is sad to see a rolling back of environmental protections while the nation is in the throes of the novel coronavirus pandemic. This crisis has made us more keenly aware that our health, financial stability and overall way of life should never be taken for granted, as they can change quickly and drastically when our environment throws us a nasty curveball.
And if we don’t work aggressively to reduce our carbon emissions, curveballs will become the new norm. Imagine the horror of a climate change-related disaster, such as a hurricane or wildfire, arising concurrently with a deadly virus. Our situation needs to be viewed as a call to arms to recognize our fragility in the face of environmental hazards and to work as hard as we can to minimize those hazards in the future.
Robert Burnett, Silver Spring
The novel coronavirus preys on the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of human lungs. Relaxing tailpipe rules at a time like this, deliberately and unnecessarily increasing the pollutants to be discharged closest to our bodies, is insanity. President Trump and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler have once again put the oil industry’s interests ahead of the health of the American people.
Larry J. Silverman, Takoma Park,
The writer was associate editor of “Vanishing Air: The Ralph Nader Study Group Report on
Air Pollution” in 1970.