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After a year of home entertainment, local institutions begin to stir with activity

One condor at the California Living Museum has clearly missed the visitors who used to stream past his enclosure every day.

During the monthslong shutdown, his keepers have noticed him fly to the elevated part of the enclosure, a different perch than his usual spot, right where he could be closest to the guests.

“The keepers said there’s no explanation,” said Lana Fain, CALM Zoo manager. “That behavior is different. He does miss the people after all.”

Luckily for the condor and the rest of the animals at CALM, Kern County’s COVID-19 progress has allowed more and more people to participate in recreational activities that have been closed for more than a year.

On Wednesday, the county entered the orange tier of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, a classification that allows businesses to open more fully. The second least restrictive of four tiers, in the orange tier bars can open for the first time, restrictions on capacity at retail stores are lifted and many institutions can increase capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent.

CALM and other organizations have experienced a rush of participants in their first few weeks of reopening, indicating a public eager to get out of the house and resume a lifestyle cut off by the pandemic.

“It was so heartwarming to know that people were able to walk through the doors again,” said Lauren Marty, communications manager for the Bakersfield Museum of Art. “We even had a line of people waiting for us to physically open those doors at 10 a.m. on March 30. And people keep on coming, which is wonderful.”

At CALM, with 14 acres of exhibits, capacity was not a problem, but the orange tier allows the zoo to bring more people into its indoor spaces like the reptile house and resume its popular attraction, the children’s railroad.

And after months of relative quiet, things are finally starting to feel like they are approaching normal.

“One of the weirdest things for me was the quiet out here, not hearing our guests and kids and all that,” Fain said. “Now we do and it’s exciting. We’ve been really busy every single day.”

The Kern County Library system, too, is beginning to show signs of life. In a news release sent out Thursday, the library announced its branches were expanding capacity to 50 percent beginning Monday. Customer appointments for indoor service will no longer be required and indoor programming will begin to return in June.

The curbside services will remain in effect.

The Beale Memorial branch will be open from noon to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Other branches will be open from noon to 6 p.m. on various weekdays. More information can be found by visiting kernlibrary.org and by emailing at info@kernlibrary.org.

Kern County is one of the first counties in the Central Valley to enter the orange tier. Nearby, Kings and Fresno counties are slightly behind in the red. On the coast, both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties remain in the red tier as well.

But the tier system is potentially on its last legs. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced California would fully reopen on June 15 if vaccine supply and hospital rates continue to trend in the right direction.

That would allow even more people to enjoy Kern County’s amenities, a prospect in which many seem eager to participate. Yet as COVID-19 continues to threaten many who venture out into the public, precautions still need to be taken.

“We learned very early on that people were excited to re-engage with the museum, but we’re also mindful that we’re part of a community, and the pandemic requires that everyone do what they can to make sure that they are keeping everyone as safe as possible,” Marty said. “Increasing levels of excitement build as we ascend through the tiers, but we remain vigilant all the while.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.