With the growing spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the United States, museums must be well prepared for potential outbreaks as public spaces, employers for over 726,000 individuals, and institutions that hold significant public trust.
The American Alliance of Museums has compiled this guide to help museums prepare internally and externally for outbreaks in their communities and navigate the broader impact of COVID-19. AAM will continue to monitor this evolving situation and update this guidance as needed. These recommendations are not to be taken as legal advice or a definitive answer for any particular museum, but rather as a guide for preparedness for the field.
Follow the links below or click “Read more” under the section summaries for expanded guidance.
Directory of Resources
Educating the public on COVID-19
Museums are the most trusted source of information in America, rated higher than local papers, nonprofit researchers, the US government, or academic researchers. Museums can take advantage of this high level of public trust to provide education on COVID-19 and fight misinformation about its spread.
By empowering the public with the information they need to lower their risk of contracting or spreading disease, museums can help sustain healthy communities, maintain calm, and reduce the chances for an increase in discrimination or xenophobia often created by global diseases.
Reviewing staff policies and administrative concerns
Museums should take steps now to revisit and update administrative policies and engage in clear and regular communication with staff in the process. Specific recommendations include:
- Review emergency disaster and succession plans, making changes as needed.
- Review insurance policies with an eye toward how a potential outbreak might impact business interruption insurance or general liability policy.
- Keep human resources policies in mind.
- Engage your staff in scenario planning. In the event of an outbreak in your community, schools may close, or local government may even choose to temporarily close cultural institutions. While we cannot predict what will happen, putting plans in place for different scenarios will help facilitate your museum’s responses no matter the situation.
Museums should track the CDC Travel Health Notices and the State Department Travel Advisories to determine what business travel should be canceled or postponed. The CDC currently recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran.
For employees who have traveled to affected areas, consider implementing self-quarantine requirements. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), there are no laws that prohibit employers from requiring employees to work remotely from their worksite as a precaution.
Guidance for Employers
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide extensive guidance for employers, including information relevant for museums as they develop strategies to keep staff safe. This information may help prevent workplace exposure to acute respiratory illnesses and provides planning considerations if there are more widespread community outbreaks of COVID-19.
Recommended strategies for employers:
- Encourage good hygiene
- Perform routine environmental cleaning
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
Museums should consider how best to decrease the spread and lower the impact of COVID-19 in their workplace in the event of an outbreak in their geographic area. They should identify and communicate their objectives, which may include one or more of the following: (a) reducing transmission among staff, (b) protecting people who are at higher risk for adverse health complications, (c) maintaining business operations, and (d) minimizing adverse effects on visitors and other entities in their supply chains.
Reviewing cleaning and collections care policies
As with any contagious illness, good housekeeping is necessary to maintain the health of those in and around the museum during a coronavirus outbreak. But while the safety of people should come first, it is also important to maintain the safety of exhibition spaces and objects, both while on display and in storage. Finding the right balance between using the strongest disinfecting cleaning supplies and those that will not harm people or objects is key.
Preparing for closures
If a museum should need to close, whether due to staff illness or a significant outbreak in its geographical area, workers should be prepared to do the following things:
- Develop comprehensive communications plans to inform the public about the closure
- Ensure that collections are in stable condition to withstand being left alone for days
- Ensure a policy is in place so that environmental and other conditions are suitable and stable on an ongoing basis
Preventing spread at public events and programs
For museums that remain open to the public and host events, we recommend consulting the World Health Organization’s guidelines for organizing mass gatherings in the context of COVID-19. This resource includes recommendations for planning, risk assessment, and other considerations relevant to museums.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also provide applicable guidance for community events, with sections on strategies to implement before, during, and after a potential outbreak.
Preparing for COVID-19 as an individual
Individuals can prepare for outbreaks of COVID-19 by regularly monitoring information distributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO). Common-sense preventative measures are highly recommended, including:
- Washing your hands often, with soap, for 20 seconds
- Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Not touching your face—especially your eyes, nose, or mouth—with unwashed hands
- Monitoring your health
- Avoiding close contact with anyone who is sick
- Staying home when you are sick, except to get medical care
- Covering your coughs and sneezes with tissues
- Cleaning high-touch areas of your home and workspace frequently
- Limiting close contact with others as much as possible (at least six feet)
Using digital platforms to remain connected to audiences during quarantines
With the looming uncertainty and the public’s growing fear around coronavirus, it is more important than ever for museums and cultural attractions to explore new digital and remote ways to reach audiences. In China, the government is encouraging museums to “promote new technology and inheritance of our country’s cultural heritage,” and Art Basel has launched new online “viewing rooms” in light of the cancellation of its major Hong Kong fair. Online collections, virtual reality, 360-degree video, and live streams have the potential to play critical roles in engaging the public, especially if closures or decreases in attendance occur as a result of this global health emergency.
Check the Alliance Calendar of Events to see all upcoming events, many related to COVID-19.
- Public health expert warns virus not going away – KSAT San Antonio
- Tesla asks employees to resume production at Fremont car plant despite coronavirus health orders – CNBC
- Major health groups and charities urge Trump to reverse World Health Organization funding decision – CNN
- Public health officials push back on May opening | TheHill – The Hill
- Analysis | The Health 202: Los Angeles is racing to discover the true coronavirus infection rate – The Washington Post
- Some Public Health Officials Not Releasing Coronavirus Hospitalizations : Shots – Health News – NPR
- Covid-19 health-care crisis could drive new developments in robotics, editorial says – The Washington Post
- Lost Your Health Insurance During the COVID-19 Crisis? Here Are Your Options – The Motley Fool
- El Paso virus cases jump to 35 as health leaders warn of increased risk of ‘community spread’ – KVIA El Paso