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Smithsonian Temporarily Closes Four More Museums as Omicron Cases Increase in DC

The museum collective cited staffing shortages due to COVID exposures and infections

The Smithsonian institution announced Wednesday that four of its museums in Washington D.C. would close temporarily.

Citing staffing issues, the Smithsonian will close the National Museum of African Art, The National Postal Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum and the National Museum of Asian Art for five days beginning on Dec. 29.

The Smithsonian hopes the temporary closures will allow the museums to fill the staffing gap caused by the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The museums are currently scheduled to reopen on Jan. 3, 2022.

“Like many other organizations, the Smithsonian has been managing the direct and indirect outcomes of the latest surge in covid infections caused by the omicron variant,” the Smithsonian said in a statement. “Over the last few days, the Smithsonian has seen an increase in positive covid cases and associated quarantine periods among our essential and operational staff.”

The nation’s capital city has reported record-high numbers of COVID-19 cases, attributed to the highly infectious nature of the Omicron variant. The quarantine and self-isolation requirements following a positive test or possible exposure have also kept many workers at home during a typically busy time of the year.

DC’s daily average of cases was 2,071 on Tuesday, up more than 900 percent over the average two weeks ago,” reported The Washingtonian. “Almost 20 percent of DC Fire and EMS employees are quarantining after positive test results.”

Any Smithsonian museum that is open will require guests over the age of 2 to wear a face mask while indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The organization will also be “evaluating our exhibits, interactives, and indoor spaces on a case-by-case basis”  to decide if they should “be closed or operate at limited capacity.”

“The Smithsonian reserves the right to modify its hours of operations, capacity, or visitor guidelines as circumstances require and to deny entry or access to any person who fails to follow these guidelines or whose conduct puts Smithsonian staff, visitors, or property at risk,” the Smithsonian noted online.

The National Museum of Natural History was already closed and will reopen on Jan. 5, 2022.

Smithsonian museums are free to the public and therefore the organization does not tally ticket sales. Instead, it relies on hand clicker counts conducted by security officers who monitor how many people enter a museum.

In 2020, it is estimated that more than 3.3 million people visited the 21 Simothsonian museums despite scattered closures and capacity limitations. The total is a fraction of what is was in 2019 when 22.1 million visitors were recorded. The museums had a total of about 28.5 million visitors in 2018 and 30 million in 2017.

On Jan. 15, Washington D.C. will require proof of vaccination at indoor restaurants, gyms, and meeting venues. The city also plans to reinstate an indoor mask mandate by the end of January 2022.

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