The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Natural History Museum is latest Smithsonian to close because of staffing shortages

The Natural History Museum is one of the Smithsonian’s popular museums. It will be closed through Jan. 5. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Covid-related staffing shortages have pushed the Smithsonian to close the National Museum of Natural History through Jan. 5, bringing the number of museums shuttered this week to five.

On Tuesday, the Smithsonian announced it would close the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, the National Museum of Asian Art (the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery) through Sunday so it could move security and facility personnel to the larger, more visited museums and keep them open.

That plan didn’t work. Lines to enter the Natural History Museum stretched around the block Wednesday because of a lack of visitor services personnel, a spokeswoman said. Unlike security, those employees are not interchangeable.

“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 posted on its website Tuesday. “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.”

Smithsonian and National Gallery of Art announce May reopenings

This is the third time the coronavirus pandemic has caused the Smithsonian to close some or all of its Washington facilities. After the second shutdown in November 2020, the Smithsonian reopened all of its units on a rolling basis from May through August.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is typically one of the busiest for the Smithsonian, but the pandemic has kept attendance down, a spokeswoman said.

Air and Space Museum will close in March for at least six months

Latino Museum backers are pushing for a prime spot on the National Mall. But a turf war is looming.

The Smithsonian is on a massive search for six new museum directors. Their work could reshape the institution for generations.