County Park and Rec Systems Gear Up For Zika Virus Nationwide

A NACo County News article (2016-06-27) highlighted the differing levels of preparedness county park systems are at to handle public safety and health issues posed by the Zika virus. The article is based on survey information collected by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). The article also noted the extensive preparations undertaken by Montgomery County, Maryland.

The Zika virus is carried by certain kinds of mosquitos and can lead to a variety of health issues including child birth defects. The primary mosquito that carries the virus, Aedes aegypti, prefers to breed in clean sources of man-made standing water. From the article:

“I made a few calls around to [park and recreation] agencies in the Gulf states,” [NRPA Vice President Richard Dolesh] said, “and asked are you ready for Zika? What is your level of awareness?” He was “shocked” by how “all-over-the-landscape” the answers were. …

In many jurisdictions, parks departments are the largest single landholder or manager, Dolesh said. Their facilities often include natural and artificial bodies of water such as lakes, ponds and streams. Some campgrounds have pit toilets and portable johns, which can contain standing water. …

With regard to park employees, Dolesh said 70 percent of employees work outdoors at some point during the year, and they can be essential in identifying and draining standing water.

The article stated that the Montgomery County parks and rec department has made extensive preparations to handle any potential Zika outbreak within the county:

Were one to occur, Jai Cole, natural resource manager for the county’s parks, anticipates a barrage of inquiries from the public.
“In my experience, you can’t fight hysteria with science,” she said.“You have to get the facts out first before the hysteria hits, or you’re a bit dead in the water.”

The county has a task force with representatives from every county agency that could be affected by Zika, including health and human services, environmental protection, permitting services and the state’s department of agriculture. Zika information is posted on the county’s mosquito website, along with information about other mosquito issues.

Waiting in the wings, the county has created a “dark” website, not yet online, that can be activated immediately in the event of confirmed local Zika transmission. “We don’t want to be fumbling around with responses or creating a site if it happens, so we want to be prepared.”

Useful Links

NRPA Zika Resources

Montgomery County Zika Resources

Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene Zika Resources

Learn more about the Zika virus, the role of state and local governments in protecting against it, and how computer mapping technology will help to track cases and contain outbreaks at the 2016 MACo Summer Conference.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: