EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. –– El Paso County is one of three counties in Colorado to be granted more than one request for a variance from statewide public health orders and Thursday they added two more to the list.
Requests to reopen places of worship and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo have support from the county’s hospitals and the El Paso County Health Department and were approved by commissioners to be sent to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (EPCPH).
Zoos, according to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo President and CEO Bob Chastain, have precedent. 59 zoos have opened in 26 states and he says 30 more are slated to open June 1st.
“We’ve been talking a lot about Colorado being ahead of the curve,” Chastain said. “My hope is that we can accomplish this so we can stay ahead of the curve. Otherwise, my fear is that we start to fall behind.”
Chastain likened the Zoo to a golf course––where people stay in place for a limited amount of time and are moving from one place to the next. That, combined with the size of the property are some of the reasons why EPC Public Health leaders support the request.
“The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo presents a very unique setting with multiple exhibits over a 50-acre campus and by its nature, there is a disbursement of crowds throughout the campus,” said Dr. Robyn Johnson, the medical director for EPCPH.
Johnson also points to El Paso County’s relativley low case count that is spread among younger demographics as well as low number of COVID–19 patients in hospitals as reason for the agency’s support.
The reopening, if approved, would be gradual and limited. In the first phase, the first five days of operation, the Zoo would be open to members only–a thank you of sorts for sustained financial support as the facility has been closed since March. Attendance would be limited to 300 tickets per hour.
On day six, the second phase begins with ticket sales open to the public, but still no more than 300 each hour would be sold. That method will continue for nine days.
Those 15 days, EPCPH says, is the incubation period of the virus and will give them insight into how or if the virus is spreading inside the Zoo.
The third phase of reopening happens on Day 15 where per-hour ticket limits would be no more. The Zoo’s capacity, Chastain says, would then be limited by its parking lot. The Zoo will not offer an off-site shuttle this year and he estimates the parking lot would limit visitors too less than 4,500 people. On its busiest days, the Zoo is visited by nearly 20,000 people.
“I do believe with all the mental health stress and physical stress that’s going on today, it’s time for the City of Colorado Springs to get the Zoo in the fight,” Chastain said. “To give people a place to distance themselves and go and get that kind of exercise and mental health relief.”
The zoo encourages people to buy tickets online as there will be limited availability on site.
If opened, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo would be one of the largest and first to reopen in the region. 126,000 people visit the Zoo each year from the Denver Metro area and 55,000 thousand from other areas of Colorado, according to Chastain.
“We can be a state treasure that will help this economy start again,” he said.
Further restrictions at the Zoo as described in the variance request include:
- Guests encouraged to wear facial coverings
- No Paper Maps, online maps can be found on the Zoo’s website
- Building capacities will be reduced and traffic will be coordinated to go in one door and out another. Some Buildings may still close
- Conservation quarters will be sanitized
- Staff with significant concerns about a guest exhibiting symptoms related to COVID–19 can ask the person(s) to leave the premises.
- Staff with close contact with guets witll wear facial coverings
- Non-High risk volunteers can return
- Staff will be asked and checked for symptoms
- Sinage and barriers may be used to encourage physical distancing
- Additional Daily Cleaning
- High-touch surfaces cleaned twice per day
- Skyride & Tram will operate
- Playground & Carolsel will be closed
- Gatherings of more than 10 people will require physical distancing between unrelated groups
- Group events of more than 50 must be approved by the EPCPH
- Weddings and other celebrations can take place if physical distancing of six feet is mantained