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The Bronx Museum of the Arts.

Major Cultural Institutions Close as New York City Attempts to Contain the Coronavirus

Hours after President Donald Trump announced that the United States would suspend all travel to and from Europe—with the exception of the United Kingdom—beginning on Friday, March 13, due to the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, New York decided to ban nearly all public gatherings of five hundred people or more. The move set off a new chain of closures and cancelations across the five boroughs. As of Thursday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the New Museum, the Shed, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Drawing Center, the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, and the New York Philharmonic have informed the public that they are temporarily closing their doors. 

“Our leadership team has been closely monitoring the developing coronavirus outbreak,” said Richard Armstrong, the director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, which called off all public events scheduled through April and shuttered indefinitely. “Though we have suspended staff travel, increased our on-site sanitization procedures, and advocated social distancing policies, we feel it is now prudent and necessary to close the New York museum and our office locations to reduce the escalation of community spread. We have made this decision in consultation with New York–area peer institutions. We hope that in the coming weeks we can once again invite visitors to enjoy the museum.”

The restrictions on public gatherings will go into effect on Thursday at 5 PM for Broadway theaters and on Friday at 5 PM for other venues. The timing could not be worse for Broadway, which is slated to launch many productions in the coming weeks, including Six (which was supposed to debut Thursday night), The Minutes (March 15), Hangmen (March 19), Company (March 22), The Lehman Trilogy (March 26), Diana (March 31), Mrs. Doubtfire (April 5), Caroline, or Change (April 7), and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (April 9). The limits on mass gatherings, where people sustain close contact and the virus can easily spread, does not extend to schools, hospitals, mass transit, grocery stores, and retail stores.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said: “The spread of this coronavirus is not going to stop on its own, and we know that mass gatherings have been hotspots for the virus to infect large numbers of people quickly. To help contain it, we are instituting limits on large events as well as new measures to protect our most vulnerable populations—including people in nursing homes—and preparing our healthcare system to be able to deal with any future capacity issues. While the context is key and the anxiety is outpacing the facts of this situation, we will continue taking aggressive action to protect public health and prepare for any future spread of this virus.”

The governor also announced that the state is taking measures to create a reserve workforce of health care professionals in the event of a staffing shortage and will designate several state facilities as temporary hospitals. New York State is also asking former doctors, nurses, and other medical workers to reconnect with their former employers and to work on an on-call basis in the case of a staffing shortage.

At the time of publication, New York has confirmed 325 cases of the coronavirus statewide. The majority of the cases are in Westchester County, where 148 people have been infected. New York City currently has ninety-five cases, and Nassau County has forty-one cases. 

[Update: March 12, 7:30 PM]

The closures of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Drawing Center have been added to this article.

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