OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The Oakland Zoo sold out of tickets Wednesday, the first day the zoo has been open to the public since closing amid COVID-19 shelter orders in March.

The zoo opened to the public at 9 a.m. and attendance was limited to 2,500 people, one-third of its capacity, to be sure visitors were safe amid the pandemic, zoo’s officials said.

“Today is just a fantastic day for us,” Nik Dehejia, executive vice president of the zoo, said. “We are thrilled. Everybody is having a really good time.”

The zoo reopened after Alameda County public health officials secured a variance earlier this month from the state.  It was weeks away from running out of money and zoo officials handing over the reins to the City of Oakland.

“We had about $3.2 million left at the end of July,” Oakland Zoo CEO Joel Parrott said. “We burn about $1.2 million a month, and so we had about three months of reserves left. That’s why we had to let the city know right away…but we came that close.”

The attendance cap of 2,500 people will last into the foreseeable future, which hinders its income; normally, the zoo gets about 9000 people a day. But the limits on attendance ensure visitors can stay six feet apart while viewing the exhibits. 

Dehejia said once zoo officials and the public feel comfortable, the capacity may be increased. On Wednesday, everybody was complying with efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, he said.

“We’re trying to do it safely and responsibly,” Dehejia said.

Tickets are sold out for Thursday as well.

The zoo made several adjustments before reopening, including the installation of signs and hand sanitizer stations throughout the park.

All the animal exhibits are open, except for the playground, bug house, and reptiles which are closed because they are indoors. The gondola is open, with cleaning after every trip, but the skyride is closed.

Despite the changes, parent Dennis Leung is just happy to have one more option to help get them through this pandemic.

“It’s so great to be out of the house,” Leung said.

“People are saying they’re happy to have a place to come outdoors and have an excursion with their family,” zoo spokeswoman Erin Harrison said.

Should there be a second wave of coronavirus and another major lockdown order, zoo officials say they should be ok.

“You know, I think the big difference is that we’re now regarded more like a state park or regional park, and so the pathways can be kept safe,” Parrott said. “So even if there’s a surge in cases in Alameda County, as long as we can make sure that there’s no transmission at the Oakland Zoo and people are safe, we should be able to stay open.”

Tickets must be purchased online at https://www.oaklandzoo.org/reopening#ticket-reservations.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Bay City News contributed to this report.

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