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Washington's Smithsonian Museums Begin to Reopen


First lady Jill Biden speaks to gathered employees and media during a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, May 14, 2021, in Washington.

Washington’s famed Smithsonian Museums began to reopen Friday after being closed to the public since November due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the museums reopening Friday was the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and prior to its re-opening to the public, First lady Jill Biden toured some of the exhibits and spoke to museum staff.

Her visit was designed to promote the reopening, as well as to highlight how vaccinated Americans can start returning to some of the pre-pandemic norms.

One day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance to say that those who are fully vaccinated do not need face coverings in most situations, Biden told reporters, “It felt so good to be outside and have our masks off.” Biden followed museum guidelines and wore her mask during the tour.

Jill Biden pauses at the The Point of Pines Plantation Slave Cabin during a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture with Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, center, and museum director Kevin Young, May 14, 2021.
Jill Biden pauses at the The Point of Pines Plantation Slave Cabin during a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture with Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, center, and museum director Kevin Young, May 14, 2021.


Along with the African American Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery, and the National Gallery of Art’s west building also opened Friday. In a week, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Zoo also will reopen.

The museums will have shortened hours initially and visitors must reserve free timed passes for entry. The museums will maintain COVID-19 health measures, including masks for all visitors age two and older, social distancing and the use of one-way paths and directions where applicable. There will be hand-sanitizing stations throughout the facilities.

All 17 museums and the National Zoo that are part of the Smithsonian Institution closed last March at the outset of the pandemic. Some of them reopened on a limited basis in July but closed again in November as virus numbers surged.

According to its website, the Smithsonian Institution, was founded in 1846 and is the world’s largest museum, educational complex. Its museums and the National Zoo are all free to the public.

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