Potential Riverbanks Zoo reopening could take place in phases with smaller crowds

No firm reopening date has been established

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — Several members of Governor Henry McMaster’s “accelerateSC” task force talked about ways to reopen several South Carolina businesses, including major tourist attractions.

Duane Parrish, the Director of South Carolina’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, told “Response” subcommittee members that he’s been talking with several major tourist spots, hinting that some could open up soon.

The Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia has not set an official reopening date, but some say it could happen in the near future.

As a result of the pandemic, the zoo closed their doors on March 15, right before their busiest season.

“We’ll draw crowds during the spring anywhere from, on average, six to eight thousand people during the weeks and then 13 to 14 thousand people on the weekends,” said Susan O’Cain with the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden.

Thousands of people who work in tourism-related jobs, including 200 part-time employees at the zoo, have been laid off over the last two months.

Parrish said his team is working on guidelines, with assistance from the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), about ways these attractions could safely reopen.

“It’s all encompassing. Some of these people will be ready to open pretty soon, some are down the road,” Parrish told the subcommittee.

In his remarks to the subcommittee, Parrish said these guidelines would help outdoor attractions, indoor attractions, exhibit-oriented attractions, theatre attractions, go-cart tracks, walking tours, water parks, and weddings that take place at gathering spots like a plantation.

O’Cain says the zoo could reopen in the near future, but it would take place in phases featuring certain attractions and smaller crowds being allowed through the gates.

“We have to consider there’s a lot of high-touch areas around the zoo, a lot of attractions, and making sure that we are sanitizing and cleaning frequently and consistently,” O’Cain said.

Even though no date has been officially set, O’Cain says staff will follow safety standards set by the federal and state governments to prevent any potential spread.

“We are going above and beyond to make sure that whenever Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens does reopen, that we feel safe, our team is safe, our animals are safe, and, of course, our community is safe,” said O’Cain.

Other major attractions Parrish mentioned in conversations with subcommittee members were the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston and South Carolina State Museum in Columbia.

Both haven’t set reopening dates as of now, but offer virtual visits for people to check out online.

In addition to tourism, the subcommittee reviewed guidelines to be used by “close-contact businesses”, including barbershops, fitness centers, and beauty salons.

John Winarchick, President/CEO of Zeus Industrial Products, recommended an addition to the guidelines to say that if someone booked a reservation, but came in contact with someone with the virus or came down with the virus, to cancel that reservation.

The subcommittee also talked about guidelines needed to reopen swimming pools, places of worship, and hotels. Governor Henry McMaster (R-SC) and Lt. Governor Pamela Evette (R-SC) were also on the call.

The subcommittee plans to meet in person next week at the Pastides Alumni Center at the University of South Carolina, likely on Tuesday.

As of Thursday, DHEC has reported 7,142 cases of coronavirus in South Carolina, with 316 deaths statewide.

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