By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
After closing over three months ago in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Carnegie Science Center reopened its doors to members on June 26. When the Current spoke that day to Jason Brown, the Science Center’s Henry Buhl Jr. director, he said guests have been overjoyed to be able to visit again.
“Our customers seem really, really happy to be here and our staff seems really, really happy to have them here,” said Brown “It’s like a big love fest.”
But a cloud of uncertainty has since rolled in overhead, as Allegheny County reported 96 positive cases of COVID-19 on June 28, the highest one day spike since the county’s first confirmed cases on March 14. That same day, Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen announced an order to halt on-premises consumption of alcohol in bars and restaurants in an afternoon press conference. On June 29, there were 85 new cases.
At that conference, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald acknowledged that more closures may occur if the rise in cases is not brought under control.
“When Dr. Bogen and her team make these recommendations, they certainly know the impact that it’s going to have on the business community,” Fitzgerald said. “However, if we don’t get ahead of it now, we will have to shut down many more businesses and hurt our economy and put more people out of work going forward.”
This news comes right as several Pittsburgh museums and cultural institutions plan to reopen to the public. The Carnegie Science Center reopened to members on June 26, and to the public June 29, as did its sister museums, the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History and the Andy Warhol Museum.
All museums in the Carnegie Museum System are enacting several restrictions to improve public safety. Museum capacity has been limited to 25 percent, and guests have to purchase timed tickets online and provide their contact information prior to their visit. Face masks and social distancing are also required for visitors and are enforced by staff and security personnel. Museum employees must wear masks and have their body temperatures checked.
Increased sanitizing of shared surfaces is also a key point in their safety plan, particularly for the Science Center.
“We have additional facility staff and custodians, additional exhibit staff, and then we have other staff across the organization constantly cleaning, constantly sanitizing,” said Brown.
The Heinz History Center is implementing lighter restrictions for their scheduled July 1 reopening. Capacity is limited to 50 percent, with an analogous online timed ticketing system. Hand sanitizer stations are placed throughout the museum, and staff are implementing new cleaning procedures. Signage will be posted around the museum reminding guests to wear masks and keep distance.
“Visitors and staff will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing while inside the museum,” said Kim Roberts, communications manager for the Heinz History Center. “Our 375,000-square-foot museum allows plenty of space for visitors to social distance and safely enjoy our six floors of exhibits.”
Also reopening July 1 is the National Aviary, with similar restrictions to the Heinz History Center. In addition to requiring timed tickets, masks and social distancing, the Aviary has taken the additional step of temperature testing all staff members, as well as any guest who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons.
Certainly, these restrictions will decrease the chance of spreading COVID-19 in these institutions. But despite these reopenings, the fact remains that positive test results for the virus are, as of writing this, trending upward. Until we can fully curb the spread of this disease, visiting our favorite museum will remain a calculated risk for the foreseeable future.