SDSU alumni reveals what it’s like to work at the San Diego Zoo during COVID-19


Kayla Brown

Melissa Ramirez has worked at The Roar Store at the San Diego Zoo for the past five years.

by Kayla Brown, Contributor

Melissa Ramirez is a recent graduate from San Diego State. At 24 years old, Ramirez has a bright personality that matches the paint on her fingernails, and for the past five years, she has worked as a cashier at the Roar Store in the San Diego Zoo. 

The zoo reopened to the public on June 20 with restrictions of course. Face coverings are required, hand sanitizer is readily available and social distancing markers remind guests to stay six feet apart. Ramirez came back to work on June 12. 

While Ramirez speaks positively about working there, she has concerns during these unprecedented times. Like at a lot of places in the U.S., there are zoo visitors resistant to restrictions and requirements put in place. 

She says there are issues with guests not wearing masks, which causes other guests to complain about seeing those without them around the park and in the store. 

“I think honestly the biggest challenge is having to tell people to put their mask on, cause no one really likes being told what to do,” Ramirez said. “And I mean I understand that, and I don’t like telling people every day to put their mask on, they get upset.

“But if we don’t do it, we’ll get in trouble if our managers are there –if our director happens to walk in we’ll get the possibility of getting written up.”

The zoo has a policy where guests don’t have to wear a mask if they have a medical condition such as asthma or breathing issues. They receive a green wristband which signifies that they don’t have to cover their face.

The San Diego Zoo reopened to the public on June 20. Certain restrictions such as masks and social distancing are enforced on site. (Kayla Brown)

Healthcare workers often voice their concerns, but Ramirez says the policy complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, where workers are not allowed to ask guests about medical conditions. She said that no medical proof is required.

“I have seen people who do have the green wristband come into the stores to buy masks, just because they’re getting harassed by so many others to wear a mask or they’ll go to guest services and make a complaint,” Ramirez said. “But I mean I see both sides of it, so I understand people who are like ‘How come they don’t have to wear it?’”

Ramirez hasn’t caught the virus, but since tourists visit from all over the country, other employees are contracting COVID-19, even with management taking the proper precautions.

“I would just recommend that if you can stay home stay home, if you wanna come to the zoo it is a nice place, it’s a lot of air, but just try mostly to keep your mask on when you’re around people that are working, not just [at] the zoo, like anywhere,” she said.