Great Smoky Mountains orders mask mandate with COVID rise. Is Blue Ridge Parkway next?

·3 min read

High COVID-19 community levels have put the Great Smoky Mountains National Park under a strict mask mandate once again.

The park announced in a brief its website's alerts page that it would require masks in public facilities everywhere, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines.

"Consistent with CDC guidance regarding areas of substantial or high transmission, visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask inside all park buildings," the announcement stated.

Another National Park Service area in Western North Carolina, Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, in Henderson County, has also reinstated the mandate.

"Masks are required for everyone in all NPS buildings, regardless of vaccination status due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in Henderson County to high, and to promote our staff and visitors’ safety," the Sandburg website reads.

Masks in the Mountains: Masks are once again required in Great Smoky Mountains National Park as COVID cases spike

Great Smoky Mountains: TN man missing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park found dead near Balsam Mountain

Fatality in park: Death of child in Great Smoky Mountains campground was 11th tree fall fatality in park

The Blue Ridge Parkway's website Aug. 9 had mask requirements only for facilities in Alleghany County, home to Doughton Park.

In nine other North Carolina counties, masks are optional.

The 469-mile parkway runs through 29 counties in North Carolina and Virginia and each has park-managed, public facilities.

The parkway's COVID masking guidance reads: "The NPS has updated its masking guidance based on the CDC’s COVID-19 Community Levels tool. Masking requirements will vary along the parkway based on local conditions. Masks are still required on all forms of enclosed public transportation."

The parkway is the most visited unit of the National Park Service, with 16 million visitors in 2021. Great Smokies is the busiest national park, and had 14.1 million visitors last year.

Blue Ride Parkway death: Man dies in Blue Ridge Parkway motorcycle accident trying to avoid fallen tree

More parkway news: Craggy Gardens Picnic Area on Blue Ridge Parkway restored after years of disrepair

Blue Ridge Parkway: Millions more visitors stream to Blue Ridge Parkway during 2021, another COVID-19 year

Parkway spokesperson Leesa Brandon told the Citizen Times this was the most up-to-date information on masking.

CDC community levels tracking charts how severely the spread of COVID in a county will affect its health care system.

The Great Smokies is located in North Carolina's Swain and Haywood counties, where community levels are currently "medium," and Tennessee's Blount, Sevier and Cocke counties, where communities levels are currently "high."

According to the latest N.C. Department of Health and Human Services data, there were 31,848 new cases in the state during the week ending July 30. In the past two weeks Swain and Haywood counties have had 1,378 new cases.

There have been 524 new COVID cases reported in Henderson County in the past two weeks.

Andrew Jones is Buncombe County government and health care reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or arjones@citizentimes.com. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Great Smoky Mountains National Park mask policy: COVID mandate returns