Update 3/27: This story has been revised to include comment from the National Parks Service.
Update 3/28: This story has been revised to include a letter from Moab Regional Hospital.
Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus, Moab Regional Hospital officials and the Southeast Utah Health Department are all calling for the closure of Arches and Canyonlands national parks to protect the area's residents from the spread of coronavirus.
"Moab understands that a temporary closure of these Parks may be a disappointment to our local community, but we feel that such a step is in the best interest of our residents in the long term," read Niehaus's letter to Kayci Cook, superintendent of the National Park Service Southeast Utah Group.
A separate March 26 letter signed by Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dylan Cole spoke directly of the risks they believed the parks presented.
"Tourists from areas with community spread of COVID-19 are using our grocery stores, interacting with the local community while picking up to-go food from restaurants, and staying illegally in nightly rental lodging in spite of the health department’s mandate," the medical professionals wrote.
Earlier this week, the public affairs officer for the Southeast Utah Group of Parks told the Moab Sun News that there are no plans to close the parks nearest to Moab.
“As the situation develops, the National Park Service will continue to evaluate and reassess operations at Arches and Canyonlands based on guidance from federal, state, and local health authorities,” said Lynn McAloon.
"In the spirit of collaboration with our local health department and hospital, the City supports the temporary closure of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks," Mayor Niehaus said in a statement released on March 26.
While several National Parks—including Yosemite, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain national parks—have closed their gates altogether until further notice after crowds of visitors gave rise to concerns about proper social distancing Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park are still open for the public to access. Visitor centers and campgrounds are closed.
Under an order issued March 16 by the Southeast Utah Health Department, campgrounds in Grand, Emery and Carbon Counties are closed to all but area residents and essential workers; most tent-only campgrounds have closed altogether.
The statement from Niehaus commends park employees for their historic collaboration but urges closure in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, pointing to guidance from the local health department and Moab Regional Hospital.
The City of Moab closed its offices and facilities last week, moving all city employees to work from home if possible.
In a letter dated March 25 from SEUHD Director Bradon C. Bradford, the health department official expressed "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."
Contacted by the Moab Sun News, McAloon commented in an email that the "NPS is considering the recommendations as it relates to park operations. We are throughout the day, hour-to-hour, reassessing how we can continue to keep visitors and employees safe."
"As states and local governments announce further efforts to combat COVID-19, decisions on modifications to park operations are being made on a park-by-park basis. As the situation develops, the NPS will continue to evaluate and reassess operations based on guidance from federal, state, and local health authorities," her statement continued.