Reopen News: New York City zoos, aquarium reopening on July 24 with safety protocols

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced Thursday that the Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo will reopen on Friday, July 24, after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic since March 16.

"One of the best things about what we do is introducing people to animals and nature and we have missed that during the closure," Bronx Zoo Director Jim Breheny said. "The pandemic continues to impact our communities and our country. We are pleased that the Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium and our other parks will again serve as retreats where guests can connect with animals and nature when we open on July 24 after being closed for 130 days.

From July 20 to 23, there will be special preview days for WCS members only.

"To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, we will limit attendance," Breheny said. "Please purchase your tickets online, as they will not be available at our gates. We will follow all guidelines from New York State and if we need to adjust plans for our opening date, we will. We are hopeful that all the city's COVID-19 indicators will continue to improve, ensuring New York City will continue on its path to reopening."

The announcement comes as the New York City Region is scheduled to enter New York State's Phase 4 on Monday, July 20, barring any new directives from New York State.

"While we have been closed to the public, our essential staff has been here every day caring for the animals and maintaining park operations," Breheny said. "The staff at our four zoos and aquarium have been amazing throughout this crisis, working tirelessly during this stressful time to meet the responsibilities we have to the animals in our care.

Related: 4 more tigers, 3 lions test positive for COVID-19 at Bronx Zoo

Reopening plans will be adjusted if needed based on state guidelines and COVID-19 indicators.

"We have been developing new guidelines and safety protocols to help ensure we can operate our parks safely," Breheny said. "These guidelines are listed at each facility's website under the 'Know Before You Go' page. Procedures for each facility may vary, so visitors are encouraged to review these websites before their arrival to become familiar with the changes. Our primary concern is the safety of staff and guests. Please do your part by wearing masks, keeping social distance, and using our many washing and sanitation stations."

The zoos and aquarium have instituted enhanced sanitation and safety protocols for the reopening, including more staff and equipment to continuously disinfect the park, enforcing social distancing by limiting number of visitors, creating one-way paths in certain areas, and incorporating contactless interactions.

All staff will wear masks, and the zoo has sanitizing stations throughout the park for staff and guests.

At the New York Aquarium, Spineless, a new exhibit for 2020, will be open to the public for the first time. The exhibit features invertebrate marine species including octopus, squid, jellyfish, and other animals that demonstrate the diversity of species found in New York waters and the oceans around the world.

Admission prices have been adjusted at some of the facilities to account for changes. Ticket prices are available at the point of sale on each parks' website.

Starting July 24 and through Labor Day, healthcare workers will receive free admission at any of the zoos and aquarium.

Health care heroes can use promo code HERO2020 and need to bring healthcare identification cards to show at the gates. CLICK HERE to reserve a day and time for healthcare heroes.

Reopening guidelines for all four zoos and the aquarium:
--The parks will be operating with limited capacity
--Tickets must be purchased online for a specific date/time
--No walk-up/on-site tickets will be available
--At the Bronx Zoo, tickets will be sold for entry at 10am; noon; and 2pm. At the other parks, entry time slots will be sold on the hour all day until closing
--Members and Healthcare Heroes must obtain tickets online, and these tickets too will be date and time specific
--The traditional free Wednesdays at the Bronx Zoo will begin Wednesday, July 29, and require advance ticketing online
--Outdoor exhibits and grounds will be open, as will major indoor exhibits
--Masks/face coverings will be required at all zoos and the aquarium for all visitors ages 3 and up
--Social distancing protocols will be in effect throughout the parks
--Cleaning procedures will be enhanced, especially in high-touch areas
--Lines, stores, and food concessions will be monitored to ensure that mask wearing and social distancing recommendations are met
--Day camps and education programs will be available online and will be virtual

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