As the Omicron variant spread in recent weeks, other museums have experienced staff shortages because of illness. For example, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington is closed until later this month, and its National Museum of Natural History, was closed briefly amid a shortage of visitor services staff but has now reopened.
In New York City, where record numbers of Covid-19 cases have been reported, the Met has reduced its visitor capacity. Anne Canty, a spokeswoman for the American Museum of Natural History, said its galleries had remained open except for the museum’s Butterfly Conservatory, which has been closed for several weeks because of shortages among specialized employees and volunteers.
Amanda Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Museum of Modern Art, said that, while some employees had been out because of the impact of Covid, no galleries had closed.
Until recent weeks, the number of galleries closed at the Met on Fifth Avenue had been more modest, though the closing of any one section has the potential to disappoint a visitor. Dan Nazzaro, for instance, traveled to the museum from Parsippany, N.J., on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when two European Sculpture and Decorative Arts galleries were closed, as well as several in the American Wing.
Nazzaro said he had visited specifically to view an American Wing gallery displaying an 18th-century cabriole-leg Massachusetts settee and other furniture. But on this day it was cordoned off with a rope and a sign that read “temporarily closed.” Gazing at the objects inside, Nazzaro said he wished that the museum had used its website to list gallery closings in real time.
Museum leaders have said they are confident the Met’s staff, visitors and collection continued to be safe, even as staff shortages became more pronounced in early January. Regina Lombardo, the Met’s chief of security, said in an interview that the museum had determined that it was more effective to assign guards to patrol and move them from place to place, sometimes based on information from cameras, than to always keep them at fixed posts.
But a larger staff was still in order, museum officials said, although fewer guards of late appear to be calling in sick. The Met said it had just hired seven new guards and planned to hire more. Lombardo said she believed the pay increase would help accomplish that, adding: “We’re fishing in a bigger pond.”