Alameda County health official asks state for clarity on reopening Oakland Zoo

Zebras dining at the Oakland Zoo. PHOTO/Oakland Zoo.

A plea last week by Oakland Zoo officials to allow it to reopen soon or risk imminent closure due to the loss of revenue caused by the coronavirus has ignited great interest from the public and stoked financial efforts to keep the beloved facility in operation.

Alameda County beatAlameda County health officials did not voice opposition to allowing the zoo to reopen when confronted by the zoo’s public appeal at a Board of Supervisors meeting on June 30. Instead, they deferred to the state and its definition of a zoos within the parameters of its phases for reopening the economy.

A letter, meanwhile, has been sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom from the head of the Alameda County Health Care Service Agency asking for clarity on the state’s plans for allowing zoos to reopen.

Oakland Zoo officials last week contend their facility is akin to an outdoor museum, a type of business that is already allowed to resume business. Alameda County, which has been slower than most counties in approving new phases for reopening, allowed outdoor museums to reopen on June 19.

In the letter  dated July 7, Colleen Chawla, the director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, agrees with the Oakland Zoo’s interpretation.

“We favor allowing lower-risk outdoor activities over higher-risk indoor activities wherever possible, and are puzzled by the State’s classification of zoos in the same category as indoor museums,” Chawla wrote in the letter also addressed to the state’s director of health and human services, and state public health officer. “We respectfully request clarification about the State’s rationale and urge you to consider grouping zoos with outdoor museums.”

Chawla argues the Oakland Zoo is similar to public parks, botanical gardens, and outdoor museums. Based on the state’s guidance for reopening outdoor museums, Chawla wrote, “We believe the Oakland Zoo is more closely related to outdoor museums than indoor museums, galleries, and aquariums.”

In addition, with state and local parks at risk for overcrowding during the pandemic, allowing the Oakland Zoo to reopen as a outdoor museum would alleviate some of the potential traffic and congestion, Chawla added.

Under the Oakland Zoo’s proposed plan for reopening, it would close its playgrounds and indoor spaces, lower daily attendance, and suspends shows and demonstrations.

Oakland Zoo officials said the facility is losing millions each month after an abrupt drop in ticket revenue due to the pandemic. Layoffs, in the meantime, have followed. Those remaining on the job continue to care for the zoo’s animals and maintaining upkeep of the facility.