John Locher / AP
Wednesday, March 25, 2020 | 2 a.m.
With so many Las Vegas residents working from home and then continuing to self-isolate during off hours, Southern Nevada’s great outdoors have become a magnet for them during the COVID-19 outbreak.
But as with life in the city, the crisis has created alarming complications with these getaways. And as disappointing as it might be, valley residents should look for outdoor recreation opportunities close to home — as in their backyards or neighborhoods — until we reach the other side of this pandemic.
One of the cruel realities of the crisis is that while getting outside and exercising offer abundant health benefits, both physically and mentally, doing so also increases opportunity for exposure to the pathogen and presents a risk of spreading the disease.
The situation has put park managers in a difficult position. They’ve spent their careers promoting the benefits of outdoor recreation, but now the crowds that are flocking from Las Vegas are forcing them to consider closing altogether for health reasons.
So while the parks remain open for hiking, walking and bicycling — as of this writing, anyway — the responsible thing for Las Vegans to do is to stay out of them for the time being. Here are a few reasons why:
• Campgrounds, visitor centers, restrooms and other public facilities are closed in federal and state parks. That list includes Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Death Valley National Park and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Campgrounds and several other public facilities also are closed at Valley of Fire State Park, although restrooms there are open for use during the day. Meanwhile, decisions on closures are being made on a minute-by-minute basis: Red Rock’s scenic route was closed twice Saturday due to high-volume traffic, for instance.
• Like residents in Las Vegas, our neighbors in rural communities near popular outdoor areas are facing strains on their food supply chains and health care resources amid the outbreak. Medical resources in those communities are limited and could easily be overwhelmed by just a small number of COVID-19 cases. Large crowds of visitors buying food and other supplies leaves less for local residents.
• As Gov. Steve Sisolak has pointed out with his “Stay Home for Nevada” message, the best way to inhibit the spread of the coronavirus is to follow social-distancing practices at all times. Those include not gathering in groups of more than 10 people, maintaining a 6-foot distance from anyone who isn’t an immediate family member and — this is vitally important — staying home if experiencing signs of illness.
Our neighbors next door in California are facing the same situation, with enormous crowds of city dwellers pouring into natural areas, and it’s causing serious tension in rural communities that are justifiably worried about the possible influx of the disease and the strains on their resources.
As reported by The Sacramento Bee, the communities of Truckee and South Lake Tahoe are considering plans to curtail availability of short-term rentals and are taking the almost unheard-of step of urging visitors to stay home.
“Our locals have welcomed visitors from around the globe for generations but right now our community needs the time and space to protect our loved ones and health resources,” the official North Lake Tahoe visitors bureau website now reads. “The Sierra region will be ready to welcome visitors back when this crisis is behind us, but now is the time to stay put.”
Elsewhere in the Bee’s story, the county supervisor in the area near the ski resort community of Mammoth Lakes reported seeing a social media post in which residents were urged to start slashing visitors’ tires.
“I’m really concerned about the level of vitriol and xenophobia,” the supervisor said. “I’m worried someone is going to get shot.”
Nobody wants a similar situation to take hold in Nevada. For Las Vegas, our rural neighbors deserve our full respect and consideration as they, like us, deal with the impact of this crisis.
So for now, Sisolak’s “Stay Home for Nevada” message is the best advice for valley residents.
The phrase “do no harm” comes to mind. The more action we take to slow the outbreak, the faster we can all get back to enjoying Nevada’s natural splendor without the threat of this virus hanging over our heads.