A visitor a the 2022 Whitney Biennial (Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York no longer require visitors and staff to wear masks or show proof of vaccination for COVID-19. They are the first two major art museums in the city to lift their mask mandates amid a resurgence of Omicron cases over the past two weeks.

“COVID-19 vaccination and masks are no longer required, but strongly recommended for all visitors to The Museum of Modern Art and its Stores,” says an announcement on MoMA’s website.

“Your health and safety are our priority, however we cannot guarantee you won’t be exposed to COVID-19,” the announcement continues. “By entering MoMA or MoMA PS1 you assume the risk of such exposure.”

The Whitney, now welcoming visitors to its 80th biennial, also “strongly recommends” wearing a face mask but doesn’t mandate it. Both museums urge patrons who experience COVID-19 symptoms to stay home.

However, other large art museums in New York still have their indoor masking policy in place. These include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, American Museum of Natural History, and New Museum, among others.

In March, NY Governor Kathy Hochul ended the state’s indoor mask mandate after a crushing Omicron wave during winter. But since then, the more contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2 has emerged, making cases in the city soar by 63% over the last two weeks.

In light of this new wave of infections, some New York institutions, notably Columbia University, have rolled back their COVID-19 policies and began requiring indoor masking and proof of vaccination again this month. On April 18, Philadelphia will become the first city in the United States to reimpose indoor masking in all public spaces in response to a surge in cases (businesses can choose to require proof of vaccination instead of requiring masks).

Dropping indoor masking mandates at the Whitney and MoMA leaves frontline museum workers, who interact with thousands of visitors daily, more vulnerable to infection. For workers at MoMA, this comes in the wake of a horrific stabbing attack last month that shook their sense of safety. And at the Whitney, most workers in the visitor services department earn less than $20 per hour and receive no health benefits. Their negotiations for a union contract with the museum have not yielded any results since they began last November.

The Whitney Museum and MoMA have not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s requests for comment.

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...