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As COVID-19 Cases Rise, Klamath Officials Consider Opening Crater Lake National Park

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National Park Service
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A view of Crater Lake from Watchman Peak before sunrise.

With calls for reopening Oregon’s economy, residents of Klamath County are considering again allowing visitors at Crater Lake National Park. That’s in spite of an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the county.

On April 22, President Trump announced national parks could be reopened as an early step to easing social distancing orders. The federally managed Crater Lake National Park has been closed since late March.

The park creates an estimated $59.9 million in economic benefits for the region, according to a 2018 study by the National Parks Service. Klamath County commissioners will likely make a request of Gov. Kate Brown to open the park after their Tuesday board meeting, according to Valeree Lane, public information officer with Klamath County Public Health.

“Our community is one where we really believe that personal freedom, the ability to come and go, is a big deal,” Lane says.

Klamath County is one of many rural Oregon counties with few cases of COVID-19. There were 36 positive cases as of Friday. But, unlike neighboring Jackson County, cases have been steadily increasing in Klamath. The county of 66,200 has more than double the number of cases per 100,000 people as Jackson County.

Lane says they don’t know why there are proportionally so many more cases in Klamath, but says it could be due to residents traveling during the early stages of the pandemic. And she says the case number could be attributed to more testing. Sky Lakes Medical Center in Klamath Falls allows patients to be tested for COVID-19 without a doctor’s recommendation, whether or not they have symptoms. Many other providers still require a doctor’s order before being tested.

According to “Reopening Oregon” a plan provided by the Governor’s office, the outdoor recreation sector is among those currently being discussed.

“If the federal government chooses to open [Crater Lake] prior to state parks being opened, visitors to the park are still expected to follow any of the Governor’s social distancing orders that are still in effect,” says Liz Merah, press secretary for Gov. Brown’s office.

Before making a final recommendation, Klamath county commissioners will discuss the appropriateness of opening the park with local hospital and public health officials, Lane says.

“Will reopening a national park put us in a situation where we have more cases? Potentially,” she says. “But I can’t say that we wouldn’t have more cases just based upon things that might be coming into play, whether that’s travel for business or an unfortunate trip where somebody was exposed.”

Erik Neumann is the interim news director at Jefferson Public Radio. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.