March 26 (UPI) -- Washington on Thursday joined a growing list of states to close public lands for at least two weeks due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
More than a dozen national and state parks in several states have already closed due to the pandemic that has sickened nearly 70,000 people and caused more than 1,000 deaths in the United States, according to figures by Johns Hopkins University.
Medical experts have said outdoor activities at parks can be safe as long as people do not participate in groups, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people keep a distance of at least 6 feet away from others to avoid potential infection.
The Washington Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday that all public lands it manages will be closed from Thursday to at least April 8. Two days earlier, it closed all campgrounds through the end of April.
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said the DNR made the decision after observing crowded trails, large gatherings and people walking close together.
"This behavior undercuts the sacrifices that Washingtonians of all means and ability are making in order to adhere to social distancing," he said. "And it undercuts the heroic efforts of our doctors, nurses and first responders who risk their lives each day responding to this unrelenting epidemic."
Washington has the third-highest number of cases in the United States behind New York and New Jersey, with more than 2,500.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order on Tuesday, calling for all residents to "immediately cease leaving their home" unless to conduct essential activities or for work.
Idaho on Friday will close its state park campgrounds until at least May 15, in keeping with an order from Gov. Brad Little.
"A combination of factors led to the closure decision," Idaho Parks and Recreation Director David Langhorst said. "Besides the stay-home order, concerns arose over the ability to maintain social distancing within concentrated campsites. Also, some communities expressed concerns about attracting out-of-area visitors and the potential for increased virus transmission."
South Carolina closed its parks Wednesday citing an increased number of visitors and decreased number of staff.
"These closures will help our staff recover from the additional workload that has been required and give us an opportunity to make decisions on how to operate our parks while keeping employees safe," the state's parks department said.
Tuesday, the National Park Service said Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks would close indefinitely.
"We are committed to continued close coordination with our state and local partners as we progress through this closure period and are prepared when the timing is right to open as quickly and safely as possible," Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly and Grand Teton Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail said in a joint statement.
State parks in Oregon, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Mexico have already closed to varying degrees and for amounts of time, along with The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Fort Pulaski National Monument.