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Oakland Zoo Closer To Reopening After Alameda Co. Files COVID-19 Variance With State

OAKLAND (CBS SF) – 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.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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