The Museum of Modern Art in New York (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York will mandate COVID-19 booster shots for all staff amid an alarming surge of Omicron cases across the country. The museum will extend remote work through January 31 for some employees, but frontline workers in the retail, security, and visitor services departments will still be required to work on-site and will receive a daily bonus of $50, according to an internal email to staff obtained by Hyperallergic.

“As we prepare for the holidays and the weeks following, out of an abundance of caution, we’ve decided that MoMA employees who work at the Museum and QNS [MoMA’s library branch in Long Island City, New York] and who can carry out their job responsibilities while working remotely may, with permission from their managers, work from home beginning December 27, 2021 through January 31, 2022,” said an email sent by the museum’s Human Resources department on December 22. According to the email, all staff will return to on-site work on February 1.

The email goes on to announce that MoMA will be “expanding the requirement of being fully vaccinated to include a booster shot” within seven days of a worker’s eligibility to receive one (six months after Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and two months after a Johnson & Johnson vaccine). Workers who are eligible to receive a booster shot prior to January 31 must show evidence of having received the booster by that date. Those who will become eligible for the booster shot past the January 31 deadline must provide HR with the date of completion of their first two vaccine shots before the end of January and show proof of a booster jab within a week of their eligibility date.

COVID-19 cases in the state of New York have spiked over 80% in the last two weeks due to the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. The number of reported cases in the past week was the highest since the beginning of the pandemic. Last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it has 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 to contain the risk of infection. Prior to that, the Metropolitan Opera became the first NYC institution to require proof of a booster shot from its staff, performers, and audiences.

In an email to Hyperallergic, a spokesperson for MoMA confirmed the new safety measures, saying they were based on New York City’s Key to NYC COVID-19 vaccination mandate for businesses, which requires all staff to show proof of at least one vaccine dose starting today, December 27 (workers will have 45 days to show proof of their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines; they are still not required to show proof of a booster shot).

“Since our reopening to the public in August 2020, we have required face coverings for all staff and visitors ages 2+ in all indoor areas of the Museum campus,” the spokesperson added, also noting that the museum’s daily capacity remains restricted to below 10,000 visitors.

A MoMA worker in a public-facing position who spoke with Hyperallergic on condition of anonymity criticized the new safety guidelines as insufficient, accusing the museum of pursuing a policy of “sticks and carrots.”

The worker noted that the museum had paid frontline workers the same $50 daily bonus at an earlier stage of the pandemic but has since stopped “although things were still bad.”

The worker, who says they recently recovered from COVID-19, accused the museum of failing to safely address an alleged surge of infections among staff.

“I informed HR that I tested positive for COVID and that I was experiencing symptoms during work but they never sent out an email warning other workers with whom I came in contact,” the worker claimed. “I personally informed them that I tested positive and encouraged them to get tested.” MoMA did not respond to these allegations.

When asked how the museum could better address his safety concerns, the worker said that MoMA should follow the Met’s example and cut down attendance to “prevent bottlenecks and allow for more social distancing.”

“I would expect the museum to just slow down a little bit and take density out of the equation, but I guess they don’t want to lose money.”

“The health and safety of our staff and public remain MoMA’s top priority,” the museum’s spokesperson said in response. “We work closely with health experts and government officials to stay on top of the latest COVID-19 information and stay vigilant in our efforts to protect the health and safety of all.”

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is Co-Editor of News at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative...