Keeping Yosemite Facelift volunteers safe from the Hantavirus

September 27, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Yosemite National Park is holding an annual clean-up effort this week with the help of more than one-thousand volunteers. But this year, officials are taking steps to keep everyone safe from the recent Hantavirus outbreak.

Piles of trash, twisted metal, and hub caps no longer detract from the natural beauty of this national park, thanks to a clean-up effort this week called the "Yosemite Facelift."

Scott Gediman said, "It was started by the climbers nine years ago, and now we've got thousands of volunteers that basically go and pick up litter."

But this year officials are taking precautions to keep the volunteers safe from the Hantavirus. The mouse-borne illness has infected nine park visitors since June. Three of those people died from the illness.

Jonathan Bayless said, "They pretty much tell us to leave anything related to mice alone, for sure, and I feel pretty comfortable. I think if Hantavirus was easy to catch, there'd be thousands of cases."

Rangers say most of the volunteers are working out in fields and along roadsides where the virus cannot survive, but extra protective gear is available to anyone who wants it.

Tom Medema with the Hantavirus Incident Team said, "So the facelift team is fortunately not going to have to deal with it much, but they're prepared if they do."

The park is also still working to protect visitors and staff members from the illness. Crews are sealing small holes in thousands of buildings to keep mice out, and dozens of cabins at Curry Village where the outbreak occurred are closed indefinitely. Nearly 100 employees also recently completed surveys and blood tests to identify their risk for the virus. All park employees will soon be offered the same testing.

Medema said, "If any of them have picked it up in the past that will show up in a blood test, it's not about actively sick individuals, we're sending those folks to the doctor, but this is looking at if Hantavirus has ever been present because you carry the antibodies forever."

Park rangers say it does not appear the Hantavirus is keeping many visitors or volunteers away from Yosemite, and the six day clean-up effort is off to a strong start.

The facelift continues through Sunday. Volunteers can sign up at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center or at the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center.


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