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Arches, Canyonlands close due to coronavirus

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Tourists line up for photos at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park near Moab on Friday, June 3, 2016.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Arches and Canyonlands national parks are shutting down Saturday after pleas from health agencies, the regional hospital and leaders in local government said it was an urgent move to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The closure also affects Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments.

Also on Friday, Gov. Gary Herbert said state park camping is restricted to residents who live in those counties, stressing the need for self-distancing and further spread of the virus.

In the case of the national parks, five letters were sent Thursday to the superintendent in charge of the region, urging closure due to continued out-of-state visitors, crowds that are not practicing health guidelines of social distancing, and limited medical resources.

“There is particular concern that the normal crowds that are drawn to the parks are coming from areas that we have little information about. Their interaction with park staff and the local community increases risk of disease transmission,” wrote Brandon C. Bradford, health officer for the Southeast Utah Health Department.

Bradford went on to cite 700 vehicles at Arches over last weekend, 90% of which were from out of state.

He emphasized there was limited staffing at the park and an inability to appropriately maintain sanitized restroom facilities and to provide emergency responders with personal protective equipment.

Moab Regional Hospital, among those that pleaded for closures, has 17 beds, no intensive care unit and only two ventilators, according to Bradford’s letter. The hospital had already called for an Arches closure.

San Juan County, which logged its first coronavirus diagnosis Friday, urged that Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments be shuttered while the deadly virus continues to spread.

Lynn McAloon, spokeswoman for the National Park Service unit in that region, said the park closure requests were reviewed before the determination was made.

She added the park service has been working closely with public health agencies and political leaders in Grand and San Juan counties to counter the threat of coronavirus spread.

“I do think it is appropriate health departments lead on this because they are the ones who are experts in the epidemiology.”

Joette Langianese, who heads up Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, said she was absolutely in favor of the closures.

“It is one more step in Grand County to flatten the curve and I think it will be beneficial,” she said. “We are a small town, with a very small hospital. ... Just for now, give our little town a break.”

There is also pressure to close Zion National Park.

“National parks like Zion are still seeing thousands of visitors every day, all hiking the same trails and gathering in the same areas. Social distancing just isn’t possible at places like this, regardless of people’s best intentions,” said Cory MacNulty, the southwest associate director for the National Parks Conservation Association.

“A chorus of voices, from recreation leaders to local communities, are respectfully asking people to stay home until it’s safe to return to parks and rural communities once again.”