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April 2nd, 2020
Chair Grijalva: Trump Admin Has No Explanation for Waiting Several Days to Close Grand Canyon National Park After Explicit Call From Health Officials

Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva today said the timeline of the Interior Department’s recently announced decision to close Grand Canyon National Park to visitors – several days after a case of COVID-19 was reported near the park and five days after local health officials first pleaded for the park’s closure – makes no sense and raises new questions about the Trump administration’s priorities.

The closure announcement, according to a press release from Interior Department spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort, is based on the receipt of a letter “today” from Thomas Pristow, director and chief health officer for the Coconino County Health and Human Services Department. Vander Voort’s release says the letter prompted Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Mary Risser, “with the support of the NPS Deputy Director, Operations, David Vela and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt,” to close the park until further notice.

Grijalva said today that Bernhardt’s explanation is absurd on its face. Among other issues, it ignores Pristow’s March 27 letter, which he sent with Coconino County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Liz Archuleta, to Risser that begins: “On behalf of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors and the County Health and Human Services Department, we are writing with extreme concern for any decision to keep the Grand Canyon National Park open in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Local tribes and Risser herself had been calling for the park’s closure since last week.

“The Trump administration refused to close a popular public gathering place until someone got sick, which is a perfect metaphor for how it’s handled this entire pandemic,” Grijalva said today. “When local health officials start a letter by describing extreme concern, any competent authority would take notice and act immediately. Instead the Interior Department delayed for nearly a week while the governor remained silent. Secretary Bernhardt can’t blame anyone else for his inability to make the obvious and necessary decision, and Governor Ducey can’t hide behind federal authority for his unwillingness to speak out at a critical time for Arizona’s public health.”

The county officials’ March 27 letter is available at https://bit.ly/3aBIStt.

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