How museums are preparing to open amid coronavirus crisis

With all 50 states in some stage of post-pandemic reopening, that means many museums are back welcoming visitors to art- and history-filled halls.

Doing so signals a return to ‘normal’ in many communities — but it may also help plug the economic hole created when almost every museum in the country closed its doors in response to COVID-19 concerns.

“All museum revenue related to admission, gift shop and café sales evaporated, along with event rentals,” said Laura Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, which pegs the loss at $33 million per day. “As many as one-third of the nation’s national cultural treasures may never reopen,” she said.

While museums are moving forward with reopening plans, potential visitors are considering the options.

“I’d feel OK about going to a museum that required masks and promised social distancing, temperature checks and staggered access with reservations only,” said Maine resident Amy Brenner Mitz.

Others prefer to wait it out.

“No thanks, not worth the potential risks,” said Alyne Ellis of Washington, D.C.

Museums that are opening are doing so with extreme caution and close attention to social distancing, health and safety. Here is a sampling of what visitors will encounter.

Elvis Presley’s Graceland, Memphis

It’s sexy when Elvis Presley croons about feeling his temperature rising in the “Burning Love” classic. But now that the gates at Graceland are reopened, anyone with a fever 100.4 degrees or higher is not allowed to enter the Memphis shrine to the King of Rock and Roll.

In addition to mandatory temperature checks, the attraction is limiting entry to just 25 percent of normal capacity, and encouraging guests to wear masks. It is using commercial-grade cleaners, including UV light sanitizer wands and disinfectant foggers, to sanitize the campus.

The Mob Museum, Las Vegas

The Mob Museum, The National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement, reopens on Sunday, May 31 in downtown Las Vegas with reduced entry capacity, a face mask requirement for all guests and pre-entry temperature checks.

The museum has its own speakeasy and, while supplies last, will be giving each guest a complimentary bottle of ethanol hand sanitizer made in the on-site distillery.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland

If it stayed closed through the end of the year, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, would be facing a $12 million loss in revenue. So, the museum is anxious to reopen to the public by June 15.

“We have been blowing the doors off with virtual offerings on our website and reaching people where they are at this time,” museum CEO Greg Harris told NBC News. “We think that will increase the number of people that now desire to visit the museum in person.”

When the doors do open, there will be timed entry, limited capacity and newly hired nurses stationed at the entrance to take everyone’s temperature. The museum will reserve certain hours for at-risk groups such as seniors. Rock-and-roll-themed masks will be provided to visitors who arrive without their own.

Many touchscreens will be turned off until the museum installs antimicrobial covers and “The Garage,” an exhibit that encourages visitors to play instruments and jam with others, will be closed.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Missouri

Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum (home of the world’s largest roll of toilet paper) opened on Memorial Day weekend with reduced capacity and new social distancing and sanitizing systems in place. The odditorium will then close for a few days to evaluate how the protocols are working out before opening for the summer season.

Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, Springfield, Missouri

The sprawling Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, adjacent to Bass Pro Shops national headquarters, reopened on Memorial Day weekend after a nine-week closure.

To accommodate social distancing, timed entries, enhanced cleaning procedures and limits on a daily attendance, the attraction is extending its opening hours. Confined spaces such as the swinging bridge are temporarily closed; interactive experiences, such as the penguin encounter, are being modified; and the museum is adopting the COVID-19 response plan developed by the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and the Infectious Disease Prevention team at Tampa General Hospital.

The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

All Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., including the National Zoo, remain closed and no re-opening dates have been floated.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

New York City’s iconic Met said it plans to reopen in mid-August, or whenever the city meets the phased reopening requirements.

The museum’s three locations — The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Cloisters and The Met Breuer — have been closed since mid-March.

“The Met has endured much in its 150 years, and today continues as a beacon of hope for the future,” President Daniel Weiss said in a statement last week. The institution will belatedly celebrate its 150th anniversary next year, he said.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming

The 40-acre Buffalo Bill Center of the West reopened on May 7 with added staff during peak hours to keep surfaces in the center’s five museums clean. Now that the south and east entrances to Yellowstone National Park are open, the museum is fine-tuning its new protocols and preparing to welcome more visitors.

Kentucky Derby Museum and the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, Kentucky

Museums, aquariums, zoos and distilleries in Kentucky can’t reopen before June 8. But in Louisville, key attractions, including the Kentucky Derby Museum and the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory are already ringing up sales in their gift shops.

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