Omicron Surge Shutters 5 Smithsonian Museums


As the Omicron variant has spread alarmingly throughout the District, the Smithsonian Institution – suffering a shortage of support staff to serve the public  –  has announced temporary closures of 5 museums. 

According to the Smithsonian Institution’s press releases as of yesterday, the shuttered museums include: The National Museum of Natural History, The National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, and the National Museum of Asian Art (formerly known as the Freer and Sackler galleries). All are scheduled to reopen Jan. 3, with the exception of the National Museum of Natural History, which is normally closed Mondays and Tuesdays and will reopen Jan. 5. 

In response to the Omicron variant’s rapid spread, The Smithsonian Institution implemented a strategy to close their least-visited museums in order to shift workers to their most visited sites (such as the National Museum of Natural History on the Mall which recorded 4.2 million visits in 2019). But this effort failed to keep up with Omicron’s rapid transmission through available staff. According to The New York Times, the Smithonian decided to close the National Museum of Natural History temporarily at the request of Director Kirk Johnson, per an email sent to staff by Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch. 

This month, with the spread of the Omicron variant, Washington, D.C. has seen a surge in Covid-19 cases with 1,868 new coronavirus cases reported before the month’s end, as of Dec. 28. The daily case number has also spiked 931 percent from two weeks prior to 2,071 cases per day, according to The New York Times. 

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 Institution announced in its press release. “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 Smithsonian strives to keep as many of our museums open to the public as possible without sacrificing the health and safety of our visitors and staff.”

Prior to the pandemic, the Smithsonian Institution’s 21 sites received 22.1 million total visits for the year. In 2020, the first year of the Covid pandemic, however, that figure dropped to only 3.3 million.

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