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'Fresh air is a great antidote’: Maryland Zoo in Baltimore serves as welcome departure for life amid coronavirus fears

When the gates opened Saturday at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, three families were waiting to spend a morning with the giraffes and prairie dogs.

By mid-morning, some 650 persons were visiting the lions and penguins on a day when so many Baltimore attractions were closed as a precaution against spreading the new coronavirus.

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But the walks and valleys within Druid Hill Park seemed a safe bet to some on a cool and sunny March morning.

“We’ve always wanted to come here,” said Kevin Hood, a visitor from Brownsville, New Jersey. “We usually go to the aquarium, but it was closed and this is something different.”

Hood was spending a weekend in Baltimore and also visited the Horseshoe Casino, which he said was less crowded than normal, and Fogo de Chao restaurant at the Inner Harbor, which seemed busy.

“I wasn’t worried coming out,” he said.

Maryland Zoo in Baltimore President Donald P. Hutchinson stood at the zoo’s entrance with his wife, Peggy, and assessed the situation.

“People talk with their feet,” he said. “This is one of the best walks in town. If you walk the zoo entirely, it’s three miles. Fresh air is a great antidote.”

Hutchinson said the zoo was closed Friday as he and his staff assessed the situation. The restrooms and the food concession areas were deep cleaned and hand sanitizers placed on counter tops.

Zoo volunteers greeted visitors and offered hand-cleaning tissues.

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Baltimore area businesses and other venues show the effects of public reaction to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are an open air venue on 150 acres of land,” he said.

“I met with the staff and we decided we’d be open. Today we’ll take a measure of how it’s going. But as soon as I got here and saw the parking lot, I could tell it’s going to be a good day. But I’m going to be flexible about the situation."

Hutchinson said Saturday’s attendance was made up of virtually all families traveling with children.

“There are people who go about naturally as a unit. There is no overcrowding here today, and there is plenty of room to spread out,” he said. “Also, the people look as if they are happy to get out of the house.”

Hutchinson said he did not expect a full house at the zoo Saturday. A week ago, the zoo saw more than 800 visitors.

“But you see already that the people who have shown up want to be here,” he said. “It looks good to me.”

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Jim Buser and his wife Amy and two daughters arrived at the Maryland Zoo from Short Gap, West Virginia.

“We are excited,” he said. “The aquarium, science center and Port Discovery were all closed. So we planned to make it a day at the zoo.”

His two daughters, Evelyn and Ava, had other ideas.

“Where is the carousel?" they wondered.

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