Rebuilding America: Our series dives into our community's efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Roxanne Morgan, the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director, says people are going to have to feel comfortable and secure when the “new normal” begins and gatherings are allowed.


“Once we get going again, and we can gather in groups larger than 30, 60, or 90, and we’re back to a quasi normal, we’re going to see a lot of participation in events as long as we have the consumer’s confidence,” Morgan said. “We have sanitizer stations (at events) and possibly masks. We want to make sure people feel comfortable and secure in the environment we’ve created for them. The experience at an event needs to be a great one.”


Several local events, such as the Cinco de Mayo celebration and Beef Empire Days, have been canceled because of state orders limiting the size of gatherings, as well as recommendations from the Finney County Health Department.


Morgan said the status of the Garden City Charity Classic, held in the fall, is up in the air. No decision has been made yet on the Symetra Tour stop at Buffalo Dunes golf course.


The Finney County Fair will be coming up at the end of July, and like everything else, it’s uncertain whether the event will be held.


“It (the fair) will look different this year, I’m sure,” Morgan said. “It may be just for exhibitors … or even at best-case scenario at that time, we’d be at groups of 30.”


The FCCVB started working in the office on May 18, after weeks of remote work, but will be working with no walk-in traffic. The group will be working by appointment only and will be using video or telephone calls for contact, unless it’s an essential meeting.


“We’re in a holding pattern, just like everyone else,” Morgan said. “We’ll be the last to recover because we bring people together. It’s a long road ahead of us.”


Garden City’s largest tourist attraction, Lee Richardson Zoo, is making plans to be ready to reopen, whenever that happens in the future.


“When we reopen, we’ll be opening both the vehicle and pedestrian gates,” said Kristi Newland, zoo director. “We’ll have social distancing reminders, hand-washing reminders and high-touch surface reminders, as well as hand sanitizer stations through the zoo to help our guests be as safe as they can while at the zoo.”


The zoo, which averages over 200,000 visitors a year, has had its staff become accustomed to dealing with social distancing and personal protective equipment while being closed to visitors. Keepers have had to adapt to social distancing with the animals.


“Anyone on the staff that’s going to be within a certain distance of some animals have to have PPE on — whether it’s masks or face shields,” Newland said. “Different animals need different distances.”


Newland said the cats at the zoo are the ones that appear to be the predominant ones susceptible to COVID-19, but other possibilities include the primates and otters.


The zoo staff has been posting more online video content while shut down to visitors, and they plan to have a pair of Edventure Camps for youths in the summer online and free to the public. No dates for the camps have been finalized yet. The zoo usually has a variety of weeklong camps for youths through the summer months.


“Parents will need to come by (Finnup Center) on Monday morning the week of the camp to pick up activity supplies,” Newland said. “One camp will be based on Nature Play and the other will be based on Madagascar.”


Newland said the zoo’s distance learning program is beginning to get calls to schedule times. The program provides an interactive video experience for classrooms from around the world to discuss and see various animals.


When visitors do return to the zoo, a trio of new buildings will either be nearing completion or completed. A new flamingo area and a new primate building are under construction. There will also be a new veterinary building.


“Construction projects are going well and once the contractor finishes, the zoo staff will go in and wrap up our part — irrigation, landscaping and putting in the furnishings for the animals,” Newland said.


The proposed finishing date of construction is the end of July.


When the zoo reopens, Newland said, it will basically be in reverse order of the various steps it took to close.


“When we open, buildings that don’t support social distancing will be closed,” Newland said. “And any animal that has shown to be susceptible to COVID-19 we will provide an extra buffer area. It could be that some animal areas are closed or you’re further back than usual.”


It will be based on the best veterinary practices and information available at the time, she said.


When the zoo does reopen, officials plan to use its summer hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.