Oakland Zoo reopening pending as county files COVID-19 variance request with state

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIAAPRIL 20, 2020Wild turkeys wander through the parking lot of the Oakland Zoo on April 20, 2020. The Oakland Zoo is closed due to the coronavirus, leaving the zoo without ticket sales. The costs of feeding (Carolyn Cole / Los Angele (Getty Images)

 An Oakland Zoo official said that the zoo might be able to open in 
a couple of weeks or even sooner after Alameda County supervisors voted Tuesday to support a COVID-19 variance attestation that public health officials have now submitted to the state.  

Supervisors voted Tuesday afternoon to support health officials in 
their request for an attestation that, if approved, would allow the zoo to reopen and outdoor dining to resume in the county. 

The Oakland Zoo has been closed since March, when regional 
shelter-in-place orders went into effect to limit the spread of the virus. The vote of support passed unanimously. 

"I'm really pleased and excited that the supervisors moved this 
forward," said Nick Dehejia, executive vice president of the zoo.

The zoo would be limited to outdoor activities. Rides, playgrounds 
and indoor exhibits would not be open to the public. 

Dehejia noted that parks in the area are crowded and the zoo might alleviate some of that. It would be good as well for residents' mental health, he said. 

The zoo would limit attendance at the start of the reopening to 
2,500 people per day. Ticketing will be part of the process. 

"We're going to start extremely slow and safe," Dehejia said.

It's costing $1 million a month during the pandemic to manage the 
zoo, he said. 

"This is our first critical step for survival," he said. 

The zoo has received support from the community and Dehejia and others at the zoo are grateful.

As of Tuesday evening, a 6-year-old Castro Valley girl has raised 
$184,240 for the zoo in 13 days. Andy Soulard was brokenhearted to learn that the zoo may have to close permanently, so she started a fundraiser by donating $5 she received from the Tooth Fairy, a Facebook post for her work says.

"We have been so incredibly heartened by the community support," Dehejia said. "They want to make sure we're around for generations to come." 

Zoo officials said another way to help is to maintain or purchase 
a membership or donate to the Animal Care Fund. 

The Oakland Zoo gets hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. 

On a busy weekend in normal times it sees 7,000 visitors. 

If the state approves the variance, the zoo can reopen if it is in 
compliance with the most recent shelter-in-place order in the county, public health officials said.