OMA Guest Article - Managing a Pandemic: COVID-19 Precautions in Northeast Ohio Museums

This guest article, was written and submitted by Ashley Sroka. Originally prepared for publishing on March 11, 2021, this article has been printed with the permissions of the author, as well as permissions from all subjects mentioned in the research.

By: Ashley Sroka


The research for this article was part of a student project by Ashley Sroka, a graduate student in the iSchool at Kent State University. The research period was from October through December 2020.


 One year ago, museums in the Northeast Ohio area closed their doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What changes did they make so that they could safely reopen? Hours spent researching websites, Facebook pages, and news articles have revealed some answers. Museums like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame implemented permanent changes such as new sliding entrance doors for touchless entry (Smith, 2020). The Rock Hall also noted a major influx of access to their new digital content, reaching over 500 teachers per day during the initial quarantine and over 15 million views on YouTube in April (Meszoros, 2020b). The Cleveland Museum of Natural History saw 43% more activity on Twitter and had reached over 70,000 views on Facebook as of June (Knowles, 2020). Virtual programs have also helped some museums fill the void from reduced capacity. Stan Hywet hosted a “Murder in the Mansion” virtual program in fall of 2020, the Akron Zoo hosted a Virtual Paint Night, and the Akron Art Museum took their entire Game Fest online (Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 2020; Akron Zoo, 2020; Akron Art Museum, 2020).  

Will virtual programs stay after COVID has gone? What other changes were worthwhile and will be permanent? If and when all the Plexiglass comes down, what else will go away with it? These are just some of the questions left unanswered. . With criteria focusing on planning, changes, and precautions made by thirteen museums in the Akron and Cleveland areas, there is room for further research. This essay does not address financial losses faced by all museums, though some were uncovered. The Akron Zoo reported a revenue loss of $1 million as of June (Webb, 2020). The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo reported a $1.5 million loss following the initial closure in March (Sell, 2020). The Cleveland Museum of Art reported a $5 million loss of revenue as of July (Meszoros, 2020a). While increased digital content and virtual programming are cited as part of the research, this publication cannot provide specific examples for all the ways that museums have tried to cope because of the pandemic. With such large losses in funding, staff cuts, and slashed programming, what other implications will there be? Will these museums be able to stay permanently open into the future? How long will it take until things are back to “normal,” and what will that new “normal” be? We await some of these answers in future months.

For the most part, all Cleveland and Akron area museums reopened in June or July of 2020. The Akron Children’s Museum is the only museum which has still been closed since March of 2020. For that reason, they are excluded from the visual data. They placed memberships on hold, canceled scheduled reservations and events, increased online resources and virtual programs, and partnered with Lock3 to provide socially distanced programs during the summer (Akron Children’s Museum, 2020; Buckner, 2020). After rising COVID cases in November 2020, and new stay-at-home advisories, some museums decided to close again – these included the Akron Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Children’s Museum of Cleveland, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the Cleveland History Center. As of March 2021, out of these museums, the Children’s Museum of Cleveland is the only one that has not yet reopened to the public.


Altogether, the graphics below reveal data pulled from both Cleveland and Akron area museums, including:

  • Akron Art Museum

  • Akron Zoo

  • Children’s Museum of Cleveland

  • Cleveland Botanical Garden

  • Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

  • Cleveland Museum of Art

  • Cleveland Museum of Natural History

  • Great Lakes Science Center

  • Greater Cleveland Aquarium

  • Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

  • Stan-Hywet Hall & Gardens

  • Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS): Cleveland History Center

  • Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS): Hale Farm & Village


24 criteria were selected for inclusion in the attached research data, with yes, no, unknown, and mixed responses for each:

  • Soft opening for members (11 yes, 2 no)

  • Phased reopening (13 yes)

  • Extra membership benefits (9 yes, 2 unknown, 2 no)

  • Extended memberships (6 yes, 3 no, 4 unknown)

  • Easy to access reopening info (10 yes, 3 no)

  • Increase in online resources (13 yes)

  • Virtual programs (12 yes, 1 no)

  • One way/controlled traffic (11 yes, 1 no, 1 unknown)

  • Sanitizing stations (11 yes, 2 unknown)

  • Extra masks available (8 yes, 5 unknown)

  • Social distancing signage (11 yes, 2 unknown)

  • Cleaning high-touch surfaces (11 yes, 2 unknown)

  • Plexiglass shields/barriers (12 yes, 1 unknown)

  • Temperature checks (5 yes, 8 no)

  • Timed ticketing (11 yes, 2 mixed)

  • Cashless transactions (13 yes)

  • Senior/vulnerable hours (7 yes, 4 no, 2 unknown)

  • Reduced group size (6 yes, 1 no, 6 unknown)

  • Limited/reduced capacity (12 yes, 1 unknown)

  • Closing hands-on areas (11 yes, 2 mixed)

  • Limited food access (10 yes, 2 no, 1 unknown)

  • Access to coat/bag check (1 yes, 8 no, 4 unknown)

  • Formed task force and/or planned with local institutions (10 yes, 3 unknown)

  • CLEan Committed Partner (not applicable to Akron Area museums; 8 yes, 1 no)

In instances where I could not verify data, they are denoted as “unknown.” If you find inaccuracies or have other questions, please contact Ashley Sroka at [email protected].


Attached below are six visual graphics. The institutions’ names are not included for the sake of anonymity. As you will note below in Figures A and B, all museums researched had phased reopenings, hosted additional online resources or activities, and offered cashless transactions. The majority modified or limited access to some exhibit spaces, included members in their soft openings, held virtual programs, posted social distancing signage, had sanitizing stations and plastic shields/barriers at desks. One Akron-area museum did not require timed ticketing reservations for walk-ins but did require them for special events; this accounts for the one “mixed” response in Figure A. One Cleveland-area museum originally required timed ticketing reservations but later dropped the need for them; this accounts for the one “mixed” response in Figure B. All but one museum in the Cleveland area was a CLEan Committed Partner (Destination Cleveland, 2020). Some substantial variance, based on available data, occurred regarding the offering of vulnerable/senior hours and the taking of temperatures; these statistics can be observed in Figures E and D, respectively, in addition to percentages regarding access to coat/bag checks (Figure F) and museums that extended memberships (Figure C).



Akron Art Museum. (2020). Home [Facebook page]. Facebook. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from

Akron Art Museum. (2020). Game fest Akron.

Akron Children’s Museum. (2020). Home [Facebook page]. Facebook. Retrieved November 22, 2020 from

Akron Zoo. (2020a). Home [Facebook page]. Facebook. Retrieved November 19, 2020 from

Buckner, T. J. (2020). Akron Children’s Museum COVID impact update to community April 2020. Retrieved from

Destination Cleveland. (2020). CLEan Committed business directory.

Knowles, D. (2020, June 8). Cleveland Museum of Natural History prepares to reopen July 1. Ideastream.

Meszoros, M. (2020a, July 1). Cleveland Museum of Art open again with new protocols. The News-Herald.

Meszoros, M. (2020b, June 17). Rock & Roll Hall of Fame CEO talks reopening, feeling confident in the new coronavirus-related protocols. The News-Herald.

Sell, J. (2020, August 1). Caring for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Cleveland Magazine.

Smith, L. (2020, June 11). Rock Hall to reopen Monday with new artifacts from Billy Idol, Lynyrd Skynyrd. rock- hall-to -reopen-monday-with-new-artifacts-from-billy-idol-lynyrd-skynyrd.html

Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens. (2020). Virtual murder in the mansion: Murder on the ballot.

Webb, C. (2020, June 5). Akron Zoo sets June 17 reopening date. Akron Beacon Journal.

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