Museums and libraries can open their doors to visitors on Friday as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s phased-in plan to reopen businesses in the state. But local leaders of those institutions say they won’t be open yet.

As with restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters, and malls, which are also able to open with reduced capacity on Friday, visitors to the city’s museums and libraries must maintain a 6-foot separation from others and should consider wearing a face mask, according to state guidelines. Self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms is also encouraged and museums must restrict public access to interactive exhibits, Abbott said.

For San Antonio’s Witte Museum, the many adjustments associated with reopening take time to implement.

“We can’t open on Friday. That’s impossible,” said Marise McDermott, president and CEO of the Witte. “We will not open until it’s safe and all our supplies are in. So, I don’t know when we’re going to open.”

Since closing its doors on March 13, the highly interactive museum has developed a “Witte Where You Are” digital series of virtual visits and set up a task force that has been looking into what other museums around the world are doing in anticipation of reopening.

The museum has been installing Plexiglas partitions to protect workers and patrons and ordered 20,000 stylus pens for visitors to use with interactive exhibits.

“It’s actually going to be be kind of creative and fun in some ways,” McDermott said. “The key thing is to still have fun. It’s going to be a totally different way of experiencing the museum, but it’s still experiencing lifelong learning.”

But the museum won’t open until those safety measures are in place, she said.

Children’s Museum

The interactive children’s museum, The Doseum, also has no plans to open any time soon. Abbott’s most recent order bans the opening of interactive parts of museums.

“We won’t be able to open until [policymakers] understand how the reopening of non-interactive cultural centers affects transmission [of the disease],” said Dan Menelly, CEO of The Doseum. “We’ve been studying this in real time and … what we will likely do is reopen on a staggered schedule.”

Menelly said that when the museum does reopen, it will consider midday closures to allow for deep cleaning and may install additional hand-washing stations and use ultraviolet light technology to sanitize toys and exhibits.

The museum has already planned for managing capacity limits, as currently mandated to 25 percent for other museums. “We have wired each of the halls with infrared sensors that we can use to track how many guests are in each space in real time,” he said.

But with more than half the Doseum campus outdoors, he said, the museum could also offer more programming outside, where social distancing can be more easily managed.

Art museums, by their nature known as spaces where touching the exhibits is forbidden, are also delaying their opening dates past May 1.

Art Museums

A spokeswoman for the San Antonio Museum of Art said it will not open on Friday. “The museum looks forward to reopening when we are able to implement sufficient safety measures to protect the well-being of our visitors and staff,” she stated in an email.

The McNay Art Museum also will not be open on Friday “out of an abundance of caution and care for our visitors and staff,” said a spokeswoman.

The museum has formed a reopening task force to develop reopening plans, taking into account federal, state, and local recommendations.

“This internal task force has established a set of measures that will help ensure a safe reopening, including but not limited to, identifying a sustained decline of new COVID-19 cases in the San Antonio and Bexar County region,” she stated.  

Briscoe Western Art Museum has plans to open, but no date set. Communications Coordinator Meredith Balzen said the museum will be limiting the number of visitors, in accordance with state guidelines, as well as eliminating interactive displays and doing some additional cleaning.

San Antonio Public Library

Public libraries must follow the same protocols for reopening as outlined for museums in the governor’s “Open Texas” handbook released Monday.

An opening date for the San Antonio Public Library has not been determined, said a spokeswoman, but a task force is working on “possible reopening scenarios” by researching what other library systems are doing to protect the public and employees.

“The Library will follow the advice and guidance of the Metro Health Department when the time comes when library materials may have to be handled,” she said in an email. “For now, preliminary protocols, such as the quarantining and disinfecting of all books, DVDs, and other physical items are anticipated to be part of the steps needed to make library materials safe to handle.”

San Antonio Zoo

The state’s zoos were not included in the reopening plans announced Monday, and that includes the San Antonio Zoo, which has been closed since March 14. Zoo President and CEO Tim Morrow said he worked with 14 other Texas zoos to submit plans to the governor’s task force on reopening.

Every day brings new developments and decisions by government and public health leaders to control the local coronavirus outbreak. We strive to be a trustworthy news source for all in the community–especially during this tumultuous time.

You rely on us for credible reporting, and we rely on readers like you to support our nonprofit newsroom. Can we count on you?

Our reporters are risking a lot to be on the streets chronicling this unprecedented crisis and its impact on our health care systems, local economy, and daily lives. We've been asking our readers to show support for this important public service by making a monthly donation or a one-time gift in whatever amount you can afford.

These donations are helping offset the loss of advertising revenue we normally rely on from local businesses. Can we count on you?

“But ultimately we were not chosen for phase one,” he said. “They haven’t specifically told us why. I think a lot of it was just basically the volume of people that we could potentially [have] even as we restrict volumes.”

But leaders at the nonprofit zoo, which Morrow estimates has lost millions in admission revenue, have been working on fundraising and reopening plans since the day the zoo closed, he said.

On Wednesday, the zoo announced it would be offering a new drive-through zoo experience, with an audio tour and snacks and drinks available for purchase along the route. Timed tickets are priced at $40 per car, $35 for zoo members.

“I keep telling everyone we’re going to come out of this smarter and leaner and way more creative than we were going into this because it’s forced us, especially our zoo that depends 100 percent on people spending money or donating to us, to become resourceful and find new ways to generate some income,” Morrow said.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is a journalist and writer in San Antonio, and a business reporter for The Rivard Report.