Suggestions for re-opening

Things to consider when reopening your Museum

Guidelines from the Museums Association of Montana

As we all grapple with the new reality of living in the age of COVID-19, we will for the foreseeable future need to change the way we operate as museums and serve our communities.  This includes finding ways to operate responsibly and safely for our staff, volunteers, and visitors. 

At the Museums Association of Montana, we are working to assist our state’s smaller museums with navigating this difficult time.  Below you will find a list of best practices to consider as you think about when and how to reopen.  In addition, I would encourage all institutions to communicate with your local City/County Health Department to seek guidance.  As we all know, Montana is a diverse state, and what might be right or necessary in one of our larger counties may not be necessary in our more rural areas. 

Practices to consider when reopening

  1. Please comply with the Governor’s Directives.  Museums are important, but we are not essential services.  Do not risk the health and wellbeing of your community if there is a “Stay in Place” directive.
  2. Contact your county health districts as to what their recommendations are for your community and surrounding areas. You can find the contact information for your county here: https://dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/fcss/countytribalhealthdepts
  3. Consider installing a plexi or glass barrier at your front desk.  This will help to protect your staff/volunteers and our visitors. If you can avoid taking a visitor’s credit card by having them slide it themselves, please do, otherwise immediately wash hands, or use hand sanitizer after handling.
  4. Institute a daily cleaning regiment.  Wipe down all door handles, countertops, sinks, credit card machines, telephones, bathrooms, and anything else that is in a common space or touched regularly by staff of visitors.
  5. Add a mandatory front desk sign-in.  Ask for contact information.  Should one of your staff/volunteers becomes ill, it is important that you notify visitors they may have come in contact with.  Contact tracing helps to stop the spread of COVID-19 and allows people who may have been exposed to quarantine.
  6. Remove all hands-on objects from your exhibits. 
  7. Close your gift shop or have staff/volunteers retrieve items for purchase.  Now is not the time for browsing and touching.
  8. Strictly enforce social distancing.  There should be a minimum of six feet between patrons and staff/volunteers.
  9. Have hand sanitizer available for staff, volunteers, and visitors.
  10. Limit the number of individuals in your museum at one time.
  11. Create hours for vulnerable populations to visit.
  12. Consider the use of masks by staff/volunteers.
  13. If you have volunteers/staff who have underlying health issues, consider having them stay home.

Sample Timeline

Below is a sample timeline from the Historical Museum of Fort Missoula.  This will guide you as to what you should provide with your museum.  We are not suggesting that you follow this exact timeline. 

Timeline for reopening the Museum

No changes prior to May 4th, even though the Governor has lifted some restrictions.  The Historical Museum will follow the lead of Missoula County leadership and the advice of the Missoula City/County Health Department

May 4th Step One – Staff will return to the museum working shifts.  (Never more than two people in the office at once). Staff will continue to have the option of working remote based on individual comfort level.  Museum will remain closed.

May 18th Step Two – Staff resumes regular office hours but will continue to have the option of working remote based on individual comfort level.  Museum remains closed.

June 1st Step Three – Only if the state has moved to Phase II of reopening. All staff returns to regular office hours. Museum opens with restrictions.  Hand sanitizer machines are installed at museum.  Plexi is installed to protect front desk.  Museum will open with reduced Summer Hours (Monday -Saturday 10am-4pm, Sunday Noon – 4pm). Hours of 10am-12pm will be reserved for vulnerable populations.  Museum will close at 4pm for cleaning and sanitizing.   Set limits for number of visitors in the museum at any given time.  No more than 10.  Social distancing is required. Begin opening outbuildings. No volunteers.

June 15th Step Four – Museum open for regular summer hours.  Small groups are allowed (10 or less). No restrictions on number of visitors inside the museum. Social distancing is encouraged. No volunteers.

July 13th Step five– Same as above.  Volunteers are allowed to resume activities, book sorting, building hosts, front desk, etc….  Small events (lectures, crafternoons, etc… return)

July 27th Step six – Only if the State has entered Phase III of reopening. Museum resumes full regular activities including large events on the grounds.

Notes – One concern I have is with our volunteers returning too early.  Many are older and come from the high-risk group.

 I would assume at least two weeks between each step.  Keeping in mind that any spike in cases would take the process back to the beginning.  All the above steps assume a best-case scenario in which cases do not increase and Missoula County continues to advise that we resume operations.


Additional Covid-19 Resources

American Association for State and Local History

American Alliance of Museums

Institute of Museum and Library Services

American Institution for Conservation

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention