With COVID-19 still a major health concern, reopening can seem like an impossible task. How on earth are you supposed to make sure everyone (visitor, volunteer, staff member) remains safe and healthy coming to your museum? How are your educational programs supposed to run “normally”?
As someone who has worked in a hospital for almost six months and a children’s museum for the last eight months – through two mandated shutdowns – I want to share what we’ve been doing to keep touch surfaces and our facility clean for visitors, staff, and volunteers. At the hospital, we have members of the public coming in daily, whether it’s for outpatient lab work, x-rays, or one day surgery. At the museum, we have a number of exhibits that are set up like mini installations, with toys and activities for each.
That’s a lot of people and a lot of cleaning.
Solutions: Round 1
I started at the children’s museum in July of 2020. At that time, we were using a sanitizing solution and water combination that was non-toxic (because, children) for non-porous toys and a spray solution for practically everything else. We put toys and crafting supplies in Ziploc bags we cleaned after every use and created regulations about how much of what kiddos could play with. Imagine having hundreds of toys to clean every two hours because children and their parents don’t understand the “one bag per child” rule. It was getting tough to clean the whole museum in the hour before and hour after closing; we didn’t have enough time to get everything done. However, if you don’t have nearly as many physically handled objects in your institution, this could work for you. We switched out the water every week, depending on the amount of traffic we had through. You will need to make sure that you are cleaning after every use, so staff would need to be more present in the gallery spaces, and you would need a separate cleaning area from office space or workspace.
At the hospital where I’ve been working since October of 2020, we have been using a vinegar-based disinfectant, GE Fight Bac™ RTU. If you have laminated materials for educational programs, this will work well for you! Spray on your materials, let it sit for about 5 minutes, and wipe off. Not only does this work well for keeping plastic objects, chairs (even squishy ones), desks and work counters clean, it’s a healthier and more organic option than bleach-based cleaners. You don’t have to worry about it staining clothing, skin, or using it around children or animals, although they still shouldn’t ingest it.
Solutions: Round 2
Much more recently, we have started using a UVC light to disinfect toys. Not only is this just as effective, it only takes about 20 minutes to do a small batch of toys. Plus, there is no drying time involved! We have a number of toy bins we rotate, so there is never an exhibit without toys. We have extra stuffed toys to rotate when used ones need to go in a bin for a 48-hour quarantine (just make sure you keep a log of what went in when). My one recommendation with a UVC light is to do your research on type of light. There are many commercially available ones that do not work well enough or aren’t large enough to kill COVID-19 on surfaces (here’s a link to read more).
Solutions: Round 3
If this is not possible for your museum to manage, finding other ways to engage people in your galleries is key. There has been a resurgence in QR code usage since COVID has hit. Consider using them instead of physical materials for the time being! Not only does this keep non-disabled people engaged, but it is a wonderful option for those with low-sighted vision and blindness, as their personal devices are set up with their preferences for screen brightness, screen color, auditory ability, etc. Platforms like www.qrcode-monkey.com have customizable settings and QR code production for free. Simply insert the URL of the site you want to link to, change shape and colors if you want to, and download.
The biggest thing I would recommend is constant cleaning. After someone has touched something, it should be wiped down as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it will depend on your institution’s capacity to have existing staff, new staff, volunteers, etc. cleaning things as often as is necessary. We are rewriting, outlining, and recreating museum praxis. Since COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere, we need to establish new cleaning protocol for all staff to do, so we can ensure the safety of everyone.
Stay safe, social distance, and the mask goes over your nose.
Sarah Hixson (she/her/hers) is an emerging curator and educator focusing on DEAI and indigenization work and incorporating activism into museum practices. If you have questions for Sarah, please comment below or send an email to email@example.com.