CORONAVIRUS

Museums cautious in welcoming back visitors

Measured steps at some, still monitoring at others

Cecilia Rokusek, president and chief executive officer of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
Cecilia Rokusek, president and chief executive officer of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
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CEDAR RAPIDS — When Cecilia Rokusek came to Cedar Rapids in 2018, she never dreamed she would have to employ her expertise in public health and disaster preparedness in her new role as president and chief executive of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.

Tornadoes, floods and terrorists, yes. Pandemics, no.

Yet here she is, not even two years later, leading her staff and advising other organizations on best practices when they reopen now that public health orders that closed museums have been eased.

Gov. Kim Reynolds on May 20 revised her emergency proclamation and allowed not only museums but indoor movie theaters, zoos, aquariums and wedding reception venues to reopen, but only at limited capacity and with public heath protocols.

Before coming to Cedar Rapids, Rokusek was program manager for the Institute for Disaster and Emergency Preparedness at Nova Southeastern University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in Florida. She helped establish and taught in the school’s disaster and emergency preparedness master of science degree program. She also has served as a national trainer in disaster and emergency preparedness, and worked with agencies from local to international levels.

“My colleague in Florida — he’s a physician — called me and said, ‘I never thought you’d get a chance to practice what you preach.’ I didn’t either,” Rokusek said. “It’s been interesting.”

The National Czech & Slovak Museum, which moved to higher ground in Czech Village after being flooded in 2008, will reopen to its members June 15, and if all goes well, will welcome the public June 22. Visitors will see three new exhibits: “Artists as Activists,” “A Century of Robots: From Capek to Now” and “Czech Heroines: Prominent Czech Women Past and Present.”

But it won’t just be the exhibits that have changed. Plexiglass shields have been installed at the front desk and in the museum store, and staff and volunteers will be wearing masks. Visitors also must wear masks; follow designated pathways; and follow social distancing and hand sanitizing protocols.

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Admissions will be limited to 25 percent of capacity. Staff will sign in each visitor with name, city and phone number, and ask about travel in the past two weeks and possible COVID-19 exposure.

Rokusek wasted no time in rallying her staff into action in mid-March when it looked like a national lockdown was coming. She called a staff meeting to develop a pandemic disaster plan and instituted the Incident Command System, keeping five working in the building and sending the rest to work from home.

The system revolves around four steps, she said: planning, mitigation, response and recovery. The best-laid plans developed a snag, however, when contractors had to come in to fix a broken thermal pipe that was leaking water into the building.

In planning the next 12 to 18 months, safety was the top priority, Rokusek said, followed by the economy and cultural connectivity.

“Those were our guiding principles,” she said.

Over the next eight weeks, the staff kept in contact by phone and online, including virtual meetings with trustees.

The staff also called all 2,000 museum members to see how they were doing; updated the museum’s database; enacted online programming; gave the building a deep cleaning’ and installed safety measures to prepare for visitors. The week before opening, staff and volunteers will undergo training.

The work doesn’t end when the doors open. Continuity of operations plans “will be critical,” Rokusek said, for monitoring the evolving situation and planning in case of a second wave.

Other Museums

The National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa opened May 22.

Even though attendance was down from previous Memorial Day weekends, associate Wayne Yanda said more than 50 people came through the doors from Friday to Monday over the long weekend.

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The facility now is open to half-capacity from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for people ages 16 and older. Following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards, the museum recommends guests wear their own masks or buy one for $1 at the door, and stay 6 feet apart. Hand sanitizer is available, too, and only credit and debit cards will be accepted.

While guests said they were happy the museum had reopened, Yanda noted some were resistant to wearing masks, “but not that much.”

For more details see nationalmcmuseum.org.

The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque reopened May 23.

“The experience will look and feel a little different from before,” Kurt Strand, president and chief executive officer said in a statement.

The facility is implementing a timed-ticket system, requiring visitors to purchase tickets in advance — to stagger guest arrival times, not limit the amount of time they’re spending at the museum complex. Guests are asked to wear masks, follow directional arrows and practice social distancing. High-touch exhibits are closed, and no outside food or drink are allowed but can be purchased inside.

Normal hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily have resumed. For details, go to Rivermuseum.com

The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art most likely will reopen in mid-June, according to Executive Director Sean Ulmer, with its 125th anniversary celebration exhibits of French and American Impressionist art extended into August.

Executive directors at the African American Museum of Iowa and The History Center, both in Cedar Rapids, continue to monitor the pandemic situation to determine the safest time to reopen.

And in the meantime, they have increased their online programming.

“I understand the governor’s urgency to open the state. The balance of public safety and the recovery of the economy is an intricate and complicated issue. However, just because The History Center can open doesn’t necessarily mean it should,” Executive Director Jason Wright said.

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He anticipates a phased-in reopening of one or two days a week, to allow for deep cleaning in between. And because of the interactive nature of some of the exhibits, masks and gloves most likely be required.

Brucemore mansion and other buildings on the historic 26-acre estate in southeast Cedar Rapids remain closed, but the grounds have reopened for visitors to stroll at safe social distances. And like at other museums, the public can explore this signature attraction online.

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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