Yosemite tent cabins padlocked; officials look for hantavirus source

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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — The brass padlocks on the “signature tent cabins” at Curry Village are the first sign that something is amiss on the eve of one of the last busy weekends of the year here in Yosemite National Park.

Then there’s the medical masks that Jil Johnson, 50, packed for herself, her 8-year-old son and his friend.

The locks bar entrance to the park’s 91 signature tent cabins where park officials believe a deadly outbreak of hantavirus originated in June, sickening four people and killing two.

The cabins are now closed indefinitely as officials wait to see if their efforts to close gaps between the cabin walls are enough to keep virus-carrying deer mice out.

Johnson, who stayed in another area of Curry Village, brought the masks just in case. She warned her son and his friend when they arrived Wednesday not to stir up any dust or dirt that can include mouse droppings, the most common way the virus spreads to humans.

In the end, they didn’t don the masks. But the Monterey, Calif., physical therapist said Friday that she was still concerned.

“I’ll be nervous for the next couple of weeks,” Johnson said.

Many recent visitors to Yosemite expressed the same concerns as the number of confirmed hantavirus cases rose to six this week. The California Department of Public Health said four cases, two of them fatal, have been traced to the cabins. Investigators hope to pinpoint the origin of the two additional confirmed cases among former park visitors.

Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said park officials and public health authorities discussed notifying other recent visitors who stayed elsewhere in Curry Village or beyond, but concentrated their efforts on those they felt were most at risk.

“We hope it’s contained,” Gediman said. “But am I going to stand there and tell you it is? I mean, of course not. I can’t do that. That’s why we’re erring on the side of caution.”

Park officials said they have sent letters and emails to some 3,100 people who reserved one of the cabins between June 10 and Aug. 24. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued another nationwide alert Friday, saying an estimated 10,000 people stayed in the cabins during that time.

Some who camped in Curry Village both then and later this week said they were not told about the outbreak when they arrived.

Camille Chu, 39, said she and her husband were not warned about hantavirus when they checked into one of the now-shuttered cabins Aug. 24. She also said she didn’t receive an email notification until Wednesday night, after she called the park.

“People need to know now,” Chu said. “You should always err on the side of caution.”

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