(WASHINGTON) -- After being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Washington Monument reopens Wednesday with limited capacity.
“For the most part, it will look like normal operations,” Mike Litterst, the chief of communications for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, told ABC News. “But we are, for the time being, putting some capacity limits in place. And we are requiring masks of anyone age two and over that enters the monument.”
Litterst said the mask requirement would be enforced even if someone is fully vaccinated. While the monument is able to hold a capacity of 1,100 people per day, according to Litterst, the National Park Service is limiting the number by almost half, down to 580 per day to accommodate for social distancing protocols.
But tickets are selling fast. On Tuesday, it sold out in 90 seconds for Wednesday's reopening.
“We knew it was going to be popular, but I don't think we were even expecting that kind of popularity,” Litterst told ABC News.
Tickets to the monument need to be reserved in advance, and visitors can book them starting at 10 a.m. the day before they plan to visit.
“So, if you want to visit on Friday, tickets become available at 10 o'clock on Thursday,” he said.
In the last decade, the monument has been closed more than it has been open. After an earthquake in 2011, the monument closed down for nearly three years due to repairs. Then, it reopened for a year and a half before it was closed again so the NPS could modernize its elevator. After the $10 million+ restoration of the site was completed, it reopened in September 2019. It was only open for about six months before COVID swept across the country in March 2020, shutting down businesses and public spaces like the monument. It then reopened on Oct. 1, 2020 and closed down again on Jan. 11, 2021.
But Litterst is confident the monument will remain open for the foreseeable future, especially because he said no mechanical repairs need to be made soon.
“We are confident and optimistic and hopeful that we're going to be open starting [today], and we're going to be open for a good long run in the foreseeable future,” he told ABC News.
He expects the modernized elevator system to run for another 15-20 years before repairs need to be made again.
While his team is excited that the monument is open and accessible once more to the public, Litterst stressed that the top priority for the NPS has, and always will be, the public’s safety.
"Regardless of pandemic or no pandemic, safety has always been top priority for any of our sites," Litterst said. “That’s why we waited to this point to open, to make sure that we were in a position where people could be kept safe. And that’s the reason that – at least initially – when we open, we’re limiting the capacity and we’re requiring the masks.”