COVID-19 Response

Once the COVID-19 crisis arose and the Smithsonian closed the doors to their museums on March 14th, the PRICE team began to convene weekly. These meetings were formed to address major collections emergency needs since staff were not allowed on-site. While it was difficult to locate specific emergency documents that had a response plan for this exact unique situation, there was some precedence for these needs based on continued operation clauses.

Figure 1. The PRICE team meeting on Zoom to prepare for an online Collections Share Fair (for the Smithsonian community) to present on the team and their COVID-19 response

Unsurprisingly, there were many collections-based questions that came up across the institution. The PRICE team put their heads together to create an FAQ document to address these in a centralized location. Melissa assisted the PRICE team in the creation of this document that now lives on the Smithsonian internal COVID-19 website. Here are examples of some of the questions included in the Collections FAQ:

  1. Will general cleaning/housekeeping of gallery spaces continue while the museums are closed to the public?​
  2. How long can the coronavirus live on surfaces without being disinfected?​
  3. What PPE should I wear when completing walk-around inspections in collection spaces  while we are closed to the public?​
  4. What should I expect to do for our collection spaces upon our return to on-site work?  ​
  5. How do I disinfect spaces without harming collections?​
  6. What kinds of incidents should be reported​?​
  7. How should I report an incident?​
  8. Should we reduce food waste to mitigate pest issues during reduced staffing on site?​
  9. What risks do personal potted plants pose from an IPM perspective?​
  10. What if a large-scale, single unit or multi-unit, collections emergency occurs during the building closures and enhanced telework status?​
  11. What if a small-scale collections  emergency, such as recurring leaks, occurs during the building closures and  enhanced telework status?​
  12. Do I have to worry about accepting objects from affected areas?​​

The sheet was reviewed by the Smithsonian Conservation Council and Smithsonian Industrial Hygienists before it was adopted on the official Smithsonian COVID-19 response website. This FAQ was a good first step for helping the staff at large with collections-based questions, however, with a prolonged closure, it was evident that more support was needed amongst staff. In order to address this, a monthly Collections Emergency Point-of-Contact (CE POC) online meeting was formed. CE POC are identified emergency contacts from each Smithsonian collecting units. These meetings created a helpful community for Smithsonian staff to share lessons learned and to guide each other through the unforeseen obstacles of closures and reopening.

You can learn more about the PRICE team and the COVID-19 response by watching PRICE Team leader, Samantha Snell’s 2020 Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC)/International Council of Museums (ICOM) presentation: