Museums seek creative ways to safely reopen during COVID-19 pandemic

Making Ends Meet
Museums seek creative ways to safely reopen during COVID-19 pandemic

A sign of the times: posted around the Penn Museum in Philadelphia are reminders that masks are a must at all times.

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PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – From China to Egypt and beyond, the halls of history span the globe.

Yet, it’s been lonesome lately in those halls at some of the 35,000 museums across the country.

“We, of course, wanted to reopen as soon as we could and safe a manner as we could,” said Melissa Smith, CEO of the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.

It’s one of the few major museums to recently reopen to visitors, after coronavirus restrictions forced them to close their doors for months.

“For the most part, it’s business as usual with our exhibits,” Smith said.

First, though, a task force of 35 museum employees needed to figure out what changes might be needed.

“We had to look at a number of things,” Smith said.

Among the changes: masks are a must, hand sanitizing stations are now located throughout the museum, clear partitions were installed to protect staff who interact with visitors and benches were marked off, so people can sit socially-distanced.

Also, arrows now line the stairs and floors, carefully choreographing how visitors move through the exhibits.

“They asked us to follow the arrows and it kind of was a different museum experience, but also I think very helpful, just because there wasn’t any confusion,” said museum visitor Soheil Eshghi.

There are a few other changes, too: some of the exhibits around the museum have touchscreens, so visitors can dig a little deeper into what’s on display and learn more. The museum is now giving out a disposable stylus to visitors, so they can safely use the touchscreens.

Visitors said they don’t mind the changes and are just happy for the chance to come back.

“I think that’s one of the things that I’ve been missing the most since all this shutdown started happening,” said Camille Lawhead, who was visiting the museum.

Now, visitors no longer need to be missing it.

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