‘I don’t think this is the time to encourage people to take cross-country road trips,’ said Dr. Dylan Cole, Moab Regional Hospital chief medical officer.

As people find new ways to adjust to life in a pandemic, many are turning to the great outdoors as a way to safely and enjoyably adhere to “social distancing” edicts from governments and health officials.

According to the National Park Service website, almost all parks and recreation areas remain open amidst the coronavirus outbreak. However, many visitors centers and ranger-led programs will shut down until further notice.

Visiting one of America’s treasures might seem like the perfect opportunity to escape home quarantine. But one doctor began urging would-be visitors to turn back.

“The best thing we could all do is stay at home,” Dr. Dylan Cole, chief medical officer for Moab Regional Hospital, told Utah NPR affiliate KUER. “My strong concern is that we are greatly increasing the risk of a significant uptick in this viral illness. We are putting all of our health at risk.”

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Coronavirus: Visitors Put Communities at Risk

Many outdoor activities themselves tend to fall among the guidelines of social distancing. But some are concerned that those seeking outdoor recreation will spread disease while traveling for adventure.

For example, an article by Dave McAllister calls out the climbing community for inundating Bishop, California, with visitors. He notes that small towns are ill-equipped to handle a spike in cases, that “an avalanche of newly infected people holds the potential to radically cripple our healthcare infrastructure.”

“The traveling climbing community just doesn’t seem to be taking this seriously,” Trevor Markel, a former Evolv athlete and Bishop local, told McAllister. “Today we had a shitty weather day, and the parking lot at Black Sheep [the local coffee hang] was packed with vans. There are traveling climbers everywhere.”

Dr. Cole said that rural hospitals surrounding park sites could easily be overrun by COVID-19 cases. That’s especially worrisome because so many people could be asymptomatic carriers for the virus during a trip.

But officials still see the potential for economic stimulus — however small — from park visitors, particularly when so many restaurants and entertainment venues have to shut down.

“There’s not been a discussion encouraging people not coming to the parks,” Utah Senator Mitt Romney said in a press conference Monday. “A self-quarantine doesn’t preclude driving and taking in the beauty of our parks. I wouldn’t want to tell people not to come to our national parks.”

The outdoors may be one of the few remaining safe places to play. But as we adapt to a new normal, we must remain cognizant of those living in rural communities. And in many instances, that may mean playing closer to home.

As McAllister puts it, “I, personally, am livid seeing people use this as an opportunity to take a climbing vacation ‘away from it all.’ You are not away from it all. You are just going to a different type of community.”


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