Yosemite National Park has provided visitors refuge from the daily tribulations and stress of the Coronavirus pandemic. With fresh air and open spaces, along with zero positive tests from park employees, it seemed to be the perfect place to safely get outside of quarantine. But that theory was debunked this week.
Officials have confirmed the presence of the virus that causes Covid-19 in two water treatment facilities in the park, indicating that dozens of people in the Yosemite Valley have been infected.
“It’s one thing to live in denial: We live in the mountains, no one’s sick,” said Eric Sergienko, the health officer for Mariposa County, who is overseeing coronavirus testing in the Yosemite area, to the San Francisco Chronicle. “But we can now confirm it’s here.”
The typically busy national park has used a variety of tactics to support social distancing and eliminate an outbreak within the small community of the area’s workers. Not only have campsites throughout the park been closed, but only half the average car traffic is being allowed into the park’s gates, with visitors having to win an online lottery to gain access.
But now the worst of fears has been realized in the area’s untreated wastewater, and the company that tested the sewage thinks that 170 people were infected in Yosemite Valley between June 30 to July 6.
Since Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide order to reclose many of California’s businesses, indoor facilities in the park have scaled back operations. Park officials will continue to work within their initial plan of 50 percent car traffic, but that could change if testing reveals more Covid in the area.
“It’s part of the overall decision-making,” said Carolyn Coder, an environmental health specialist for Mariposa County. “Do we need to go back to shelter-in-place? Do we need to go back to stage one?”
While it can now be confirmed that Covid-19 was in Yosemite this summer, how will that impact the operations of the park and businesses in the area? Only time will tell.