Cuomo Says N.Y.C. Museums Won’t Reopen Monday

By Sarah Bahr

New York City is moving to Phase 4 of its reopening plan, but indoor cultural attractions such as museums will stay shut for the time being.

The Museum of the City of New York, which had at one point been planning for a July 23 reopening.
The Museum of the City of New York, which had at one point been planning for a July 23 reopening.Credit...Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Whitney Donhauser, the director of the Museum of the City of New York, had hoped that, come next Thursday, the museum’s halls would play host to its first masked, socially distanced visitors.

Not so fast, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday. Mr. Cuomo said that when New York City enters Phase 4 of its reopening plan on Monday, indoor cultural attractions, malls and indoor dining will not reopen yet.

“We’re not going to have any indoor activity in malls or cultural institutions,” Mr. Cuomo said on a conference call. “We’ll continue to monitor that situation, and when the facts change, we will let you know.” He added that he was looking at the potential of a second wave — “a man-made wave” with the potential to arrive by plane, car and train from the West and the South, where Covid-19 cases are increasing.

“We are still in a precarious position, not because of anything we have done, but because of the negligence of the federal government, and the states that, frankly, listen to the federal government,” Mr. Cuomo added. “I am very worried about the spread that we see across the country, and the inevitability that the spread will be here.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced weeks ago that it would reopen Aug. 29, and it remains to be seen whether the virus situation in the city will remain stable enough for cultural attractions to reopen by that date. “Embedded in our announcement is that it is merely a plan, which of course is still subject to state and city approval — and this week’s public health developments underline exactly why that is the case,” said Kenneth Weine, chief spokesman for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Many institutions, like the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, have not publicly announced their reopening plans.

Ms. Donhauser said in an interview on Thursday that while she supports the governor’s decision, the museum feels confident it can reopen while keeping visitors safe. She said the museum’s small size and simple layout make it easy for visitors to navigate with social distancing. “We’re ready to go as soon as the governor tells us we can,” she said.

Many museums are already planning measures to protect visitors, once they are allowed to return. The Museum of the City of New York will use a timed ticketing system and limit visitors to 25 percent of its capacity. Plexiglass barriers will separate cashiers from visitors, and touch-screen experiences will be temporarily closed.

The Met has said it will require masks and will also cap visitors at a quarter of the museum’s capacity. The New-York Historical Society, which is now planning on a Sept. 11 reopening, will also require masks for anyone over age 2, provide hand sanitizer stations and conduct temperature checks for all staff and visitors.

In Los Angeles, some museums opened their doors in mid-June, only to close them earlier this month after an order from Gov. Gavin Newsom of California when coronavirus cases surged in the state. Several Texas museums, including the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, pushed back reopening plans after a similar spike in cases in Dallas County.

New York City is the only region that has not yet entered Phase 4 of Mr. Cuomo’s reopening plan. Regions outside the city began entering Phase 4 in late June.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had expressed similar concerns Thursday about reopening indoor spaces too soon.

“The outdoor elements I feel good about and confident about so long as we’re clear about the standards and enforcement,” Mr. de Blasio said. “The indoor is causing me pause.”

“There can’t be a slippery slope there,” the mayor continued. “Indoor is the challenge and we have to be really tight about it. I think there are substantial elements of Phase 4 that can move ahead. Others, we have to be very careful about and deliberate about.”