KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Face masks are once again required inside all buildings at Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting Tennessee counties within the park are considered high risk for COVID-19.

Visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park are required to wear a mask inside all park buildings regardless of vaccination status. Masks are not required outdoors within the park.

The park is comprised of parts of Blount, Sevier and Cocke counties, all of which are rated at high risk of COVID-19 by the CDC as of Aug. 9. The National Park Service began using the CDC’s COVID-19 Community Levels metric in late February to allow individual parks to make decisions on masking based on local conditions.

The CDC divides every county in the U.S. into three categories of COVID-19 risk: high, medium and low. The two North Carolina counties within the park boundaries, Swain and Haywood, are rated at medium risk as of Aug. 9.

Three data sets pertaining to COVID-19 are used by the CDC to determine the levels of community risk: new cases, hospital admissions, and percent of beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. If conditions are “low or medium” then mask wearing is not required for staff, visitors, or others regardless of vaccination status.

The mask requirement within the park was first implemented in January 2021. It was dropped a few months later but returned in August 2021 as cases of the Omicron variant rose.