Philadelphia Zoo reopens with changes for safety amid pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The Philadelphia Zoo reopened for the first time in four months on Monday to members only, marking it's phased plan to welcome guests back to the park.

Despite the morning heat and humidity and afternoon storms, zoo members took advantage of the chance to get out of the house.

"My family is safe. We have the hand sanitizer, the masks, we got everything we need to do, we're doing good," said Kevin Hitchner of Tacony.

He brought his grandkids to the park for a short visit because of the weather.

"It's brutal. We're cutting it short today because it's really, really bad out," he said.

The zoo made a list of eight changes to safely reopen, including requiring anyone over the age of 2 to wear masks, having guests fill out a health screening and asking everyone to reserve their tickets online in advance.

"What matters is not so much what we do, but how we do it," said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, who worked with the zoo to find a way to reopen. Other changes include putting hand sanitizer stations throughout the park, adding signs that remind people to social distancing, and implementing a "Clean Team" of staff that frequently disinfects highly-touched surfaces.

"These are the precautions that we have to take to get back to some of the community activities that we love," said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who represents the 3rd district, which includes the zoo.

Derrick Culbreath, of Wilmington, brought his family to Philadelphia for a trip to the zoo. He said the experience is good for his daughters.

"They've been home for a while now so for them to be able to get out is a tremendous opportunity," he said.

The zoo says it lost between $12-$15 million during its 16-week shutdown. The health commissioner says now that the city is in the green phase, the outdoor areas are safe to be. Indoor exhibits are still shut down.

"We know that if we stay home the epidemic will subside, but we can't stay home forever. so we have to find ways to go about our lives safely," said Farley.

The zoo will reopen to the general public on Thursday, July 9.
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