Visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in August, 2020, after months of COVID-19 closure (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City reduced its visitor capacity to 10,000 a day, slashing in half its average daily attendance during the holiday season, and suspended dining in its cafeteria as part of new safety measures responding to the statewide surge of COVID-19 cases. The self-imposed restrictions went into effect today, December 21, and will remain in place until further notice, the museum told Hyperallergic.

“Reducing density is one important step to protect our staff and visitors,” said Kenneth Weine, the Met Museum’s chief communications officer, in an interview with Hyperallergic. He added that the decision was taken due to high attendance numbers in recent days and in preparation for a busy holiday season for the museum.

“Annually, we have very big crowds over these two weeks,” Weine explained, referring to the upcoming holiday period. “In recognition of that and the recent strong admission numbers we’ve had, we’re taking this step to ensure that the entrance experience is safe for visitors and staff.”

Viewed as a bellwether among US museums, the Met was first to close its doors in March of 2020, when New York saw the country’s highest number of COVID-19 cases. When it reopened in August of that year, the museum reduced its daily admission numbers to roughly 3,000 visitors, which amounts to 25% of its pre-pandemic capacity. Since then, restrictions have been loosened and the museum recorded several attendance peaks of over 20,000 visitors daily.

COVID-19 infections in the state of New York have spiked over 80% during the past two weeks, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. The total of the reported cases for the past week was the highest since the beginning of the pandemic. 

For visitors, these new measures might mean longer lines at the museum’s entrance, where vaccination checks are conducted, according to Weine. “The Met is an extremely popular destination,” the spokesman said. “This is one way to keep the entrance and the full Met experience safer for visitors and staff.”

This news follows the Baltimore Museum of Art’s (BMA) decision to close its galleries from Wednesday, December 22, through December 26, citing a “surge of positive COVID cases.”

“We need a moment to step back and ensure our staff is ready to serve Museum visitors,” a statement on the BMA’s website explains. “We think cautiously is the best way to move forward right now.” The museum has not responded to Hyperallergic’s question of whether infections have occurred among its staff.

While museums in the United States are only beginning to feel the impact of the pandemic’s resurgence, museums across Denmark and the Netherlands have already been mandated to shut down amid renewed COVID-19 restrictions. In the United Kingdom, the Museum of Natural History in London announced on Twitter it will be closed through December 27 “due to an unforeseen staff shortage” caused by COVID-19 infections. Other London art institutions like the Wellcome Collection and the Foundling Museum have also closed for the holiday period, bracing for what will inevitably be another COVID Christmas.

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...