This statement, issued on January 4, 2022, is in response to the interview and open letter from AFGE Local 2463 President Reginald Booth. Those can be found here and here.
Smithsonian policy is to ensure that our employees are protected in accordance with CDC and local public health official guidance. To that end, the Smithsonian has implemented a mask mandate for all staff, as well as for visitors entering Smithsonian premises. In addition, the Smithsonian mandated staff to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22, 2021 which has resulted in a near 94% vaccination rate.
Encounters with the public are brief and are well below the CDC guidance for exposure which is 15 consecutive minutes in a small space with a person who has COVID. The visitors come through a magnetometer and their bags go through the X-ray machine similar to an airport procedure. The visitor-officer contact (both masked) is literally seconds or minutes. There is not “a lot of close contact primarily with security guards” nor are people “funneled” into small areas. The entrance lobbies of our museums are wide open spaces.
Finally, to date, the Smithsonian has had no confirmed case of a visitor-to-staff transmission.
Regarding staff who contract COVID-19 — Smithsonian policy was developed in light of CDC and local public health officials’ guidance which includes, having the employee quarantine at home, report confidentially to our Occupational Health and Safety Service. The staff-wide memo issued last year is still in effect.
Regarding the process by which the decision to open or close Smithsonian museums is made, that is at the Secretary’s discretion. Secretary Lonnie Bunch makes those decisions in consultation with his leadership team, Smithsonian health & safety, and, of course, follows the CDC and local public health official’s guidance.
Finally, regarding the Smithsonian’s overall operations — at no point does the Smithsonian operate museums with staffing levels that jeopardize the safety and security of its employees, visitors, or collections. This is why we announced closures and reduced hours because we don’t open with a shortage of staff.