Shell museum reopens doors with new protocols in place
After closing over two months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum reopened its doors to visitors over the weekend with new safety measures in place.
On March 17, the museum temporarily closed as a precautionary step to limit the spread of the coronavirus. During the closure, it maintained a limited number of staffers to maintain the building’s operation and to ensure the welfare of nearly 500 living mollusks that are part of a new exhibit.
“By the time we reopen, we will have been closed for about 10 weeks,” Chief of Museum Operations Colleen Donnelly said last week. “We had somebody here every day taking care of our animals.”
Only 16 days before closing its doors in response to COVID-19, the museum had unveiled its new living exhibit, “Beyond Shells: The Mysterious World of Mollusks.” The recent addition consists of 11 aquarium exhibits, two 15-foot-long touch tanks, and interactive interpretive exhibits on mollusks.
Donnelly reported that in addition to taking care of the new animals during the closure, other departments also kept busy. The education staff worked on developing programs and activities for when the museum did reopen and into the summer, including outdoor and indoor things to do.
Staff also worked on new policies and procedures to put in place upon reopening.
“We were able to do some deep cleaning and maintenance projects,” she added. “It was an opportunity to prepare for reopening and to prepare for going forward in the next few months with reopening.”
A big part of the reopening discussions and planning was what the museum’s goal was.
“It is an opportunity for visitors and staff to really feel safe in the building while getting out of their homes,” Donnelly said, adding that the museum took the island chamber’s SanCap Safe pledge.
New safety measures implemented in light of COVID-19 include constant cleaning and sanitizing throughout the museum and daily checklists for staffers for cleaning and disinfecting duties. Safety or sneeze shields have been installed at the front desk and in the gift shop to protect staff and visitors.
Occupancy is limited to 50 percent, and protective face masks are mandatory.
“We will be limiting the number of guests at any one time,” she said. “We are going to require our visitors and staff to wear masks at all times – it is part of the SanCap Safe pledge we took.”
Hospital-strength hand sanitizer stations have been added throughout the museum, with a hand-washing station set up at the aquariums exhibit. Social distancing is encouraged for everyone.
“We focused a lot on our signage,” Donnelly said, explaining that visitors will see different types of signage than normally found. “We are going to open with a one-way trail through the museum.”
Along the marked route are stop points with reminders to social distance and wash hands.
Staff also looked at the hands-on features inside the museum, such as vending machines, water foundations and parts of some exhibits in the Great Hall of Shells, and shut them down. Visitors are still able to access those exhibits; they just cannot turn or spin any “hands-on” features of them.
“Our touch pools and aquariums will be open as usual,” she said.
It is also not selling water bottles, but hands-free bottle filling stations are available.
“Visitors are encouraged to bring a water bottle or thermos,” Donnelly said.
In addition, credit cards and memberships are only being accepted for entry.
“We are not accepting cash, at least for the time being,” she said.
As for programming, the museum made some changes as well, including moving many programs outside to allow for proper social distancing. For the popular shell crafting program, visitors can no longer make the craft onsite. Instead, staff have created craft kits for visitors to take home and do.
Held at 2 p.m., the following outdoor programs are planned:
– Monday: Mollusk Reproduction Talk
– Tuesday: Mollusk Trivia with prizes
– Wednesday: CSI Mollusks
– Thursday: Camouflage Talk
– Friday: Mollusk Bingo with prizes
– Saturday: Invasive Mollusks Talk
– Sunday: Venomous Mollusks Talk
The featured movies are being shown in both auditoriums at the same time.
“To spread people out and allow for social distancing for the seats,” Donnelly said.
In addition, the paper scavenger hunts are not available.
“We put them online,” she said. “When visitors come in, they can access them on their own handheld devices.”
One new activity created as a result of COVID-19 is a story walk along an outdoor trail. Donnelly explained that a staff member wrote a story about land snails, which is featured along the path.
“Visitors can stop at each stake and read a page of the story, and then move on to the next stake,” she said. “It’s really encouraging literacy, but also education and being active and getting outside.”
The museum and its staff are excited to welcome back visitors.
“We just want to make sure we do it in the safest way possible for them and our staff,” Donnelly said.
The museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information, visit www.shellmuseum.org or call 239-395-2233.
Officials reported that a substantial shortfall in revenue is expected this year due to the temporarily closure, so all donations are appreciated. To donate, visit donorbox.org/bmnsm-covid-19.
The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is at 3075 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel.