Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., are operating on a modified schedule as a result of unprecedented staffing shortages due to COVID-19.
The Smithsonian Institution announced the changes Jan. 14 following reduced days and hours of operations for its museums from Jan. 5 through 17. A temporary schedule would go into effect starting Jan. 18 until further notice as a large quantity of staff members have been infected with COVID-19 due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.
The National Air and Space Museum, the National Postal Museum and the Anacostia Community Museum will all be closed until further notice, according to the Smithsonian’s press release. In addition, the National Air and Space Museum will be closed for at least six months beginning March 28 due to renovations.
The National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of African American History and Culture will continue to operate five days a week. The National Museum of Natural History will operate Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, the National Museum of American History will operate Friday through Tuesday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture will operate Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Some exhibits may be closed until further notice to reduce the number of staff needed and some museums have limited their number of entrances, according to the press release.
Closing the three museums will allow the Smithsonian to allocate staff members as needed to keep its other museums open, according to Alison Mitchell, a spokesperson for the National Air and Space Museum.
“The Smithsonian evaluated operations, staffing needs and public visitation patterns during the first temporary closures and reduced hours at some of the Smithsonian museums that ran from Jan. 5-17,” Mitchell wrote in an email to The Hoya. “That led to the newly modified schedule, which includes the continued closure of the National Air and Space Museum, that reflects the continuing need to reduce operations due to ongoing staff shortages while accommodating the needs of the public by opening more Smithsonian museums on weekends.”
Other museums, such as the National Portrait Gallery and the National Zoo, have shifted their schedules to be open from Thursday to Sunday.
The National Zoo, which is typically open everyday, will similarly follow a Thursday to Sunday schedule to protect animals and staff from exposure, according to Pamela Baker-Masson, a spokesperson for the National Zoo .
“The Zoo remained fully operational throughout COVID to provide quality animal care for the 1,800 animals in our care,” Baker-Masson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We adapted several protocols to keep our staff and animals as safe as possible during this time (wear protective gear, distancing, limit the number of people with access to animals and to other staff etc.)”
Pandemic-related staffing shortages in the District have also resulted in scaled-back bus services, reduced hours for government offices, school disruptions and strains on the county fire department.
The museum closures have limited opportunities for Georgetown students to take advantage of study spaces across the District, according to Joe Massaua (SFS ’25).
“Essentially the portrait gallery is a great study space but due to covid is only open Thursday to Sunday,” Massaua wrote in a message to The Hoya. “It’s a beautiful museum with an atrium that is perfect to have a coffee and do work in. It’s a shame that the Smithsonian has decided to limit the operating hours.”
COVID-19 safety measures remain in place to ensure the safety of both employees and visitors, according to Mitchell.
“Since early in the pandemic, the Smithsonian has required face coverings be worn by visitors and staff inside the building, social distancing within the buildings, and has increased cleaning and provided hand sanitizing stations throughout the buildings,” Mitchell wrote.
Although in-person visits to many Smithsonian museums are limited, the museums remain committed to providing virtual opportunities for visitors, such as webcams at the National Zoo, according to Baker-Masson.
While these museums deal with reduced hours and closures, there is optimism that the museum will reopen soon if the Smithsonian does not experience prolonged staffing shortages, according to Mitchell.
“We anticipate the museum in DC will reopen March 3,” Mitchell wrote. “The Smithsonian is continuing to assess the situation and staffing needs and will continue to adjust the schedule as needed.”