Observing COVID-19 related behaviors in a high visitor use area of Arches National Park

Zachary D. Miller, Wayne Freimund, Douglas Dalenberg, Madison Vega

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Introduction Visitation to parks and protected areas is a common COVID-19 coping strategy promoted by state and national public health officials and political leadership. Crowding and congestions in parks has been a perennial problem and the ability to socially distance within them is an unproven assumption. Is it possible to socially distance in a busy national park that has been designed to concentrate use? Methodology/Principal findings An observational study was conducted in July 2020 at the outside foyer of the Visitor Center of Arches National Park. Motion sensor cameras were placed to record one-minute videos when a person entered the field of view. Number of groups, group size, facial coverings and encounters within 6 feet (1.83 meters) of other groups were recorded. Groups were smaller on average than recorded in previous studies. Approximately 61% of the visitors wore masks. Most groups (69%) were able to experience the visitor center with no intergroup encounters. We model the probability of intergroup encounters and find as group size and number of groups increases, the probability of encounters rises. With four groups present, the probability of one or more encounters ranges from 19% to 40% for common group sizes, while if eight groups are present, the probability of one or more encounters increases from 34% to 64% for common group sizes. Conclusions/Significance Under conditions in which park visitors have the physical space to avoid close encounters with other groups they are taking advantage of the opportunity. Visitors are minimizing group size, wearing masks, and remaining socially distant. However, encounters increase as the number or the size of the groups increases. In other areas of the parks this ability to avoid encounters may not be as possible. We recommend that park managers continue to appeal for compliance with CDC guidelines, especially the wearing of masks and encouraging visitors to split up into small groups when visiting.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0247315
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2 February
StatePublished - Feb 2021


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