GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — Face masks are no longer needed inside buildings within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park after the National Park Service changed its guidance earlier this year. Park officials will now make masking decisions based on local COVID-19 data.

In late February, NPS began using the COVID-19 Community Level tool from the Centers for Disease Control. This meant that the across-the-board mask requirement was dropped and, instead, masking requirements would be determined by local conditions.

“In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this meant that masks would be required until all six counties within the park were in a low or moderate community level,” said Dana Soehn, public affairs for the park.

The six counties reached that milestone the week of March 16, and the requirement for masks in federal facilities was removed, Soehn said.

The CDC’s tool uses three data sets pertaining to COVID-19: 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.

Should community-level cases are determined to be “high” within Swain and Haywood counties in North Carolina or in Sevier, Blount, or Cocke counties in Tennessee, the guidance says mask wearing will be required for all people indoors again.

“The community level gives a more robust picture of the impact of COVID-19 than looking at new COVID-19 cases alone, as we did previously,” said park officials.

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.