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Virginia Living Museum among first zoos and aquariums in Hampton Roads to reopen its doors

Zoos, aquariums and museums can open their doors with certain restrictions in place during phase 2 of the governor's reopening plan.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A Newport News aquarium and zoo opened its doors to visitors this morning for the first time in more than 80 days, as part of "Phase 2" of the Governor Northam's reopening plan.

Rebecca Kleinhample, the executive director of the Virginia Living Museum, said there are new precautions in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among visitors and staff.

“This is a fantastic day. We’ve got the sun shining on us," Kleinhample said. "For the first day in 82 days, we have the Virginia Living Museum open to our members and guests. We’re thrilled!”

It's not quite back to the old normal, but Kleinhample said it was still an exciting step.

“We are doing things differently, but everyone is doing things differently.”

Friday, most of Virginia entered phase two of the governor’s plan to reopen businesses – so places like zoos, aquariums and museums are back open for guests, with certain guidelines in place.

Just like grocery stores and restaurants, museums and zoos are limiting the number of people allowed in.

Credit: Dana Smith
Virginia Living Museum reopens its doors after coronavirus pandemic

At the Virginia Living Museum, face masks are required, no one with coronavirus symptoms is allowed in and social distancing is enforced with markings on the floor throughout the exhibits. 

Visitor Andrew Buckles said he had been following the museum virtually during the closure.

“We’ve been following along with the VLM livestream almost every day,” he said. “But there’s just no comparison for real life experiences and real-life interactions with real-life animals.”

The museum is home to more than 1,000 animals. During the closure, essential staff still worked to care for them.

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Kleinhample said the closure hasn’t been easy financially.

“Seventy percent of our annual revenue depends on the visitation we have,” she said. “Depends on school groups coming, depends on the tourists who flow through our region heavy in the spring and summer.” 

So she said she’s glad to be back open, even though a few attractions remain closed such as the café, planetarium and museum shop.

Kleinhample said museum staff is eager to reopen those when they can safely do so.

“What we do is adapt,” she said. “We adapt, we learn, we improvise, we move on.”

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