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Smithsonian reopens museums with new safety measures in place

October 22, 2020


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia under the Creative Commons license

The Smithsonian has reopened a selection of its museums with posted signs and pandemic-related measures to maintain safety and precaution.

The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and gallery complex, with 19 museums and galleries, along with the National Zoo. A few of its most popular museums include the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Millions of people from all over the world travel to Washington DC to visit the Smithsonian each year, with over 22 million visitors just last year.

However, with the spread of the coronavirus, all of the museums and galleries under the Smithsoniaan umbrella closed last spring. Some facilities with ample space for social distancing reopened in July, including the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly and the National Zoo. But beginning September 18 of this year, the institution had started phase reopening, allowing the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Renwick Gallery, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum to open doors with new procedures and safety measures. 

Tourism officials hope that these reopenings of four Smithsonian museums will increase interest from visitors and improve their financial situation. According to the WJLA, new tourism numbers show visitor spending dropped $6.1 billion in DC compared to last year from March 8 through September 12, which is an 81% drop versus 2019 and has cost the city $278 million in tax revenue.

Although the three most visited Smithsonian Museums in 2019, including the Natural History, National Air and Space, and American History Museums, have yet to reopen, all the museums that have done so have pandemic-related measures to maintain safety and precaution. Instead of allowing thousands of people to visit everyday, the number of visitors allowed in at a time is limited to a few hundred a day, and visitors have to make reservations before showing up. 

In addition, bags no longer have to be checked when visitors arrive, and visitors cannot enter without a mask. Of course, social distancing inside the museum is required, and hand sanitizer is offered throughout the building. Though some of the museums may have reopened, the cafes and gift shops in the museums will remain closed, and public tours and other events will be suspended. 

Although it is hard to predict the impact the Smithsonian reopenings will have on tourism, the hope is it will at least encourage more visitors within driving distance to come to Washington. According to Destination DC, the 50 plus million people who live within a four-hour drive of DC make up the segment of the tourism sector expected to recover first because “surveys show during the pandemic people prefer traveling by car instead of taking trains or airplanes.”

These procedures have made visitors feel a lot safer when visiting the Smithsonian. “As long as I have my facemask on, and other people keep their distance, I’d feel comfortable going to the Smithsonian,” senior Salma Kane said. “I think there are enough procedures in place, there’s not much more that could be done to stop the spread of Covid.”

With the many safety precautions put in place, the Smithsonian galleries and museums have made people feel more comfortable visiting, and will prevent future spreading of COVID-19 in one of DC’s most frequently visited tourist attractions.


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