Smithsonian Closes due to Corona Virus Pandemic

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  • Smithsonian Museums and the National Zoo were closed to the public on March 14, 2020, and non-essential staff were instructed to begin teleworking, if possible. As a public health precaution due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), all Smithsonian museums in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and in New York City, including the National Zoo, temporarily closed to the public starting Saturday, March 14, 2020. All public programs were cancelled through the summer. All Smithsonian facilities around the globe, including Panama, Hawaii, Arizona, New York, etc., were also closed, with only the most essential employees onsite, to protect buildings, collections, animals, equipment and other resources. All non-essential employees who could telework were placed in telework status; those who could not telework were placed on emergency leave. All academic appointments, such as interns and fellows, were postponed. All travel was cancelled. The health and safety of Smithsonian visitors, staff and volunteers was a top priority. Smithsonian administrators, led by Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III, closely monitored the coronavirus situation and maintained ongoing communication with local health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the staff and the public.
  • Due to the rapidly changing nature of the situation, reopening of operations was carried out in four phases, beginning in June 2020. Updates were provided on a week-to-week basis on SI websites. Information was also disseminated on social media outlets. The Institution created the Smithsonian Cares website to provide a wide array of online resources for students, educators and the general public, in addition to the existing resources at and museum websites that presented more information on virtual exhibitions, online collections and educational resources. Digital volunteers flocked to online sites such as the Transcription Center to work on projects for the Smithsonian from home. In April 2020, the TC transcribed an astounding 16,460 pages as 4,971 new digital volunteers joined the SI's volunpeers.


  • Bunch, Lonnie G
  • Smithsonian Transcription Center


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • This is the first time, since its founding in 1846, that the Smithsonian closed for an extended period of time. Normally, museums were closed to the public only on December 25 and January 1. Facilities had closed briefly in the past following natural and man-made disasters, such as hurricanes, blizzars, and after 9/11/2001, but all of those closures were brief.
  • Smithsonian Museums and the National Zoo to Close March 14, 2020, Smithsonian News Release, March 12, 2020, SI-101-2020

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


March 14, 2020


  • Closings
  • Disasters
  • Museums
  • Zoo visitors
  • Epidemiology
  • Public health
  • Diseases
  • Museum visitors
  • Epidemics

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