In other words, check museum websites before you go, because the ground is shifting rapidly at this point in the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Gallery’s mask decision puts it on the front lines in Washington, where most museums still require visitors to cover their faces indoors. The Phillips Collection, the International Spy Museum, Planet Word and the National Museum of Women in the Arts mandate that visitors wear masks, according to their websites. The Phillips also conducts temperature checks.
An exception is the Museum of the Bible, which on May 20 stopped requiring vaccinated staff and visitors to wear masks, although the museum encourages the public to continue wearing them, according to its website. On May 29, several Boston museums took the same position, dropping their mask requirements while still strongly suggesting their use.
The National Gallery had been reviewing its mask policy since late last month, when the CDC’s guidance changed to allow fully vaccinated individuals to be indoors without masks in most circumstances, spokeswoman Anabeth Guthrie said. After D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced more restrictions would be lifted June 11, the museum decided to make the change.
“Fully vaccinated visitors are not required to wear masks. We ask anyone who is not fully vaccinated, as well as those who would feel more comfortable doing so, to wear a mask,” Guthrie said in an email. “We will not be asking for proof of vaccination, as we trust our visitors to act responsibly. We feel confident that this new policy will permit our visitors to visit the National Gallery safely.”
The Smithsonian began reopening in early May, with visitors now welcome at nine museums, the National Zoo, the Haupt Garden and the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. After Friday’s opening of the Natural History Museum, eight more will welcome visitors in a rollout that ends Aug. 20.
The Smithsonian’s visitor guidelines instruct those 2 and older to wear face coverings indoors, while “fully vaccinated visitors are not required to wear a face covering outdoors.” On June 28, fully vaccinated visitors will not be required to wear masks indoors, either. The Smithsonian will not ask for proof of vaccines.
The National Gallery and Smithsonian are also looking to increase attendance at the museums. Since reopening its West Building last month, the National Gallery expanded its cap from about 12 percent to 25 percent of its maximum occupancy, because that’s how many visitors can be smoothly processed through two entrances, at Sixth Street NW for the West Building and the East Building’s Study Center entrance on Fourth Street. The East Building’s main entrance is closed for construction, but it is expected to open by mid-August. Guthrie said timed passes will be used until all capacity restrictions are lifted.
Many of the Smithsonian museums that have already opened are working on increasing capacity to 50 percent, officials said. But each facility will reopen at 25 percent or less. The timed passes will be used through the summer, officials said.
The National Archives will require passes when it reopens its rotunda at 25 percent capacity for viewing the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. A maximum of 300 people a day will be allowed to enter Fridays through Mondays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through this month. Starting July 2, it will expand operations by opening daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and will allow visitors to view its Magna Carta. Daily capacity will increase to 580.