We know that things are changing quickly and current public health and economic circumstances may be profoundly impacting your museum. This is a collection of resources addressing concerns we have heard from colleagues across the state. We will be updating this page frequently so please check back often.

We also encourage you to join our Heritage Outreach Facebook group here as a way to stay up to date on available resources. If you have specific questions or would like to share resources please email Allison Campbell at allison.campbell@wshs.wa.gov.

For information about WSHS’s public schedule, cancelations and COVID-19 response click here.

Reopening Toolkit for Small Museums

About This Toolkit

This toolkit is provided upon request as a general guide and is intended only to provide suggestions and information to assist small museums in reopening.  Neither the toolkit nor any of its parts have been approved by the Governor’s Office.  It is subject to updates, corrections, and modifications and the Washington State Historical Society makes no claims or guarantees of its accuracy or effectiveness for any purpose.  Small museums retain full responsibility for their decisions of how and when to open to the public and use of this toolkit or any of its provisions is at your own risk.  WSHS is not liable for any injuries, illness, or death arising out of or resulting from use of this toolkit regardless of the form of action, either on the part of the entity implementing the plan or from third parties.  WSHS is not a public health agency and nothing contained herein should be construed as public health advice or guidance.  You should contact the Washington State Department of Health or your local health department for information on the safe operation and reopening of your facilities and offices during the COVID-19 crisis.

This toolkit for small museums is intended to serve as a companion to the excellent list of reopening resources compiled by King County’s 4Culture.  This toolkit provides additional resources to help museums with limited resources meet the requirements for reopening.  We encourage you to explore the 4Culture toolkit as it covers additional topics not addressed here in ways that we felt are applicable to organizations of all sizes.  

4Culture’s Reopening Toolkit

Washington State Reopening Guidelines for Museums

Governor’s Guidelines for Reopening Museums

Please note that, once approved, the directives laid out in the statewide reopening plan for museums are superseded by county public health guidelines.  Be sure to check in with your local public health department regularly for changes and updates to relevant county-level protocols.

Directory of Local Health Departments and Districts in Washington


Things to Consider Before Reopening Your Museum

How many people typically visit your museum per day during peak season?
If it is less than the recommended capacity to maintain safe social distancing then you may not need to offer timed ticketing.

How many people typically visit your museum per day during peak season?
If it is less than the recommended capacity to maintain safe social distancing than you may not need to offer timed ticketing.

How many staff/volunteers are on site during opening hours?
The more staff and volunteers you have on site the more mindful you will have to be about social distancing in the work space. If you do not have enough volunteers or staff to be present in the galleries to en- courage social distancing amongst visitors you may need to employ other strategies like one way traffic flow or very clear signage limiting the number of people who can be in the space at one time.

How many square feet of space is accessible to the public?
This calculation will help you determine your maximum capacity while maintaining 6ft of space for each visitor. Don’t forget to account for exhibits that take up floor space in your galleries and subtract them from your total square footage. Divide the total sq. ft by 113 to get the number of people who can safely be in that space. You can also explore these design models, created by Mackenzie, to plan for adapting your museum environment for the pandemic.

How many high touch points do you have? (ie. door knobs, hand railings, restroom fixtures, etc.)
These will need to be cleaned throughout the day. You might consider placing hand sanitizer near these high touch points.

Do you have hands-on exhibits that cannot be sanitized between each visitor or household group?
If you do not have the capacity to sanitize hands on exhibits between each group of visitor or household group it is recommended that they be temporarily removed from the gallery, closed off, or marked clearly as “do not touch.”

Can you accommodate touchless money transactions at your front desk and/or museum store?
A donation bin might suffice, but if you charge for admission we recommend you consider some of the touchless options listed in this toolkit.

Do you have outdoor space you can utilize for programs allowing greater social distancing?
The science suggests that being outside may reduce the transmission of COVID-19. How can you use your outdoor space in creative ways? Consider hosting outdoor public programs, mindful of the maximum gathering sizes mandated by your county and determined by what reopening phase you are in.

Can your facility accommodate a “one way in/one way out” traffic pattern?
This is one option for encouraging social distancing, but we understand may it not be feasible at your site. Think creatively. You may have to consider giving visitors the ability to move through spaces not typically open to the public, for example exiting through a back door originally used as a staff/volunteer entrance.

If your facility is at maximum capacity for social distancing, where will people wait to enter?
If weather permits, consider having visitors wait outside to enter. You also might place some interpretive signs around your grounds as a way that they can begin experiencing your site before they’ve entered the building. If people are lining up outside the door, mark 6 foot intervals in some way – even just strips of tape on the ground are likely to suffice.

Is your facility small? Are you concerned about having enough space for volunteers, staff, and visitors?
Consider new options for making additional space. For the summer months, maybe a tent or porch can be used to create additional work space. Consider having volunteers work in shifts, with each person sanitizing the work space before the next shift arrives. Look around – are there furnishings or displays that can be removed to create more space temporarily?

Preparing Your Facilities for Reopening

General Guidelines for Cleaning Facilities
Your facilities will require a thorough cleaning prior to reopening, and a consistent cleaning protocol throughout the pandemic.  Here are general tips for preparing your facility and suggestions for establishing and maintaining good cleaning routines.  
Preparing your workplace for workers during the pandemic from the CDC
Cleaning Guidelines for facilities from the CDC
Protecting worker safety amid COVID-19 from OSHA
Guidelines for cleaning exhibits from the National Park Service
Guidelines for cleaning in historic striations from the Minnesota State Historical Society

Making Sneeze Guards to Protect Frontline Staff/Volunteers
There are many commercially available sneeze guards, safety screens, and countertop shields to protect frontline staff and volunteers as they interact with visitors. Below are some tips for making your own.
Blog post ranking commercial sneeze guards with instructions on how to make your own
Short video on how to make simple plexiglass sneeze guards

Tips for Establishing One-Way Flow Through Your Facility
Encouraging visitors to move in a single direction through your museum has the potential to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure. Start by doing a walk through of the public spaces in your facility and consider the choke points where visitors might cross paths. Where possible, create a clearly identified one-way flow of traffic, with visitors entering the building and galleries through one door and exiting through another. There are many options for purchasing floor stickers indicating the flow of foot traffic, but the pattern can also be marked by simple tape arrows on the floor. 

Collections Care
Keep in mind that cleaning protocols and social distancing requirements can have special impacts on how we care for museum collections.
Managing Collections During Pandemics from American Alliance of Museums
COVID-19 Resources from the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative
Impact of Hand Sanitizers on Museum Collections from the Library of Congress

Protecting Staff, Volunteers and Visitors

Hand Sanitizer
If you are struggling to source bulk hand sanitizer consider reaching out to your local commercial alcohol distiller. Many have pivoted to producing high quality sanitizer and have the capacity to meet local demand.
Distilleries making hand sanitizer in Washington State

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
You are required to provide PPE for all staff and volunteers working at your site. As of July 7th, visitors are also required to wear face coverings. While you MUST provide PPE to your staff and volunteers, you may choose whether to make them available to visitors. Below are some tips for how to do this in a cost effective way.

Several counties and cities have PPE donation programs. Try checking with your local chamber of commerce or community foundation to identify resources.
Directory of Washington Chambers
Community Foundation Locator

Grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Washington State Library to purchase PPE

Strategies to Optimize Your Supply of PPE from the CDC

Sources for PPE
List of vendors compiled by the State of Washington
Simple instructions for making masks
Video for DIY face masks

Touchless Money Transactions
Many small museums operate on suggested donations that can easily be placed by the visitor directly into a donation box. For other transactions it is not advised to use cash. There are many options for those who need to allow visitors to make touchless payments by credit card. Here are a few suggestions, but we en- courage you to research other vendors in addition to those listed here.

DipJar allows you to set a donation rate – $300 branded card reader with your logo

Square and Clover offer point of sale systems with wireless dip card readers – $40-50 for reader + Transaction Fees

Eventbrite, and other online ticketing platforms, can be used to allow people to pre-purchase timed tickets to your site – 2% of ticket price + $0.79 – No fees for donations or free tickets

Communicating Expectations to Visitors
Several health agencies have produced free downloadable signage in multiple languages to encourage face coverings, social distancing, hand washing etc. 4Culture’s Reopening Toolkit provides some excellent sample language and communication strategies for organizations reopening under public health safety guidelines.  There  are also some resources for addressing stigma around facial coverings and how to report incidents of racial bias.
Printable Signs from the CDC
Health Education Signage from the Washington State Department of Health


General COVID-19 Resources

Grants and Fundraising

Free Webinars:

Audience Engagement

Free Webinars:

Collecting and Collections Care

Free Webinars:

Heritage Resources 53

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Donation

Does your museum have surplus masks and gloves? Please consider donating them to our healthcare workers on the front lines of fighting this pandemic. It’s easy!

  1. Collect your extra PPE. Most sites will only accept unopened boxes of masks and gloves.
  2. Look up the closest donation point at www.getusppe.org and drop them off.
  3. Take some photos of the materials you donated and share them on Social Media with the hashtags #getusppe and #WAmuseumsgivePPE so folks can know about the important contribution your organization has made to our collective effort to beat this virus.