Smithsonian Tells Museum and Zoo Visitors Masks Are Now Optional

Face coverings mandate is lifted this Friday, as more museums resume daily visiting hours

Zoo's Lion sculpture de-masked
In the early days of the Covid crisis, National Zoo officials tied a mask around its popular lion sculpture to emphasize the need to follow safety protocols. Beginning this Friday, masks are optional in all Smithsonian museums and at the Zoo. Photo illustration by Emily Lankiewicz

Smithsonian officials announced today that beginning Friday, March 11, it would no longer require visitors to wear face coverings to enter its 19 museums located in Washington, D.C. and New York City and its National Zoo, located in D.C.’s Rock Creek Park.

The museums, which have been operating under limited hours, will also transition to returning to normal operating times during the week, beginning Monday March 14. The National Museum of Natural History and the Zoo will open seven days a week.

In a note to staff, the Smithsonian’s secretary Lonnie G. Bunch explained that the new visitor guidelines were based on health safety measures from the Centers for Disease Control, which now recommend communities assesses risk based on hospitalizations and the ability to meet the care needs of patients suffering serious Covid infections.

“We have the tools and understand how to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” Bunch wrote. “We also know our personal risks and the responsibility we have to keep ourselves and those around us healthy.”

The Secretary also advised that the pandemic was not yet over and required that all staff working in the museums would continue to be required to wear masks and would take other health and safety precautions, including health screenings, contact-tracing procedures and quarantines if sick.

Visitors and school groups making their summer trips this year to the Smithsonian have much to either rediscover or see for the first time. New exhibitions scheduled for 2022 include the stunning glassworks of Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary, the vibrant portraiture of the stars of Nigeria’s Nollywood, a graphic otherworld fantasy, created by Toyin Ojih Odutola, where women rule over a class of male workers and the much-anticipated reopening of the west galleries this fall at the National Air and Space Museum.

Here is a list of shows scheduled for 2022. Consulting Smithsonian’s visitor information, as well as its tips and guidelines is advised.