The National Zoo in Washington partially reopened to visitors on Friday for the first time in more than four months, despite the capital’s mayor expanding public health measures to fight the coronavirus this week.
For some parents, taking their kids to see animals was a relief after being cooped up at home in lockdown for months.
“It’s been amazing. He was up at, what time? Six a.m. because he couldn’t wait to see all his favorite animals,” guest Shannon McMahon said of her young son James.
The zoo requires visitors to reserve a ticket in advance, to keep the numbers down, and insists on mask-wearing for both the public and zoo workers. COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease that can transmit back and forth between humans and animals, said the zoo’s deputy director, Brandie Smith.
“Something like avian influenza or rabies or swine flu, any of the things that you hear about, we are always protecting against those. A lot of our keepers already were wearing masks to work with the animals and interact safely with them. None of these protocols are new, there’s just more of them expanded across every species,” said Smith.
Worried about a possible spike in coronavirus cases, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser on Wednesday ordered people to wear facemasks whenever they leave the house, with only a few exemptions.
Visitor Elisa Braver said the zoo felt safe.
“Everybody’s wearing face coverings, people are distancing physically, and the indoor exhibits are closed so this is a great form of outdoor recreation where we can get some exercise and get some enjoyment without risking ourselves and other people,” she said.