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Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History begins phased reopening

SB Museum of Natural History
Ryan Fish/KEYT

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History began a gradual reopening this week, with some new safety modifications in place.

For now, only members are allowed to return, and by-appointment only. Members first returned on Sunday, after a few days of "test runs" by staff members and their families walking through the property.

The museum currently plans to keep capacity to about one third of normal, or about 50 people on the property at a time during peak hours. Guests will move in a one-way direction around the property to promote physical distancing guidelines.

Guests are also required to wear masks on the property. New hand-washing stations have been installed in certain areas.

Indoor museums are now cleared to reopen across California, but museum President & CEO Luke Swetland says the Museum of Natural History is taking a cautious approach at first.

For now, only outdoor areas are open. Swetland is hopeful that all indoor galleries--including the Sea Center on Stearns Wharf--will reopen in July. Swetland also predicts that the general public will be able to return and museum hours will be extended next month.

Some staff are still working from home, but many have returned to help with guest services.

“A lot of the staff are so glad to be back at the museum,” Swetland said. “Actually doing what we love to do every day, which is talking with folks like you about why the natural world matters, and how we all can do a better job to take care of it.”

Some of that is happening in the slightly modified Butterfly Pavilion, which is now divided into seven different zones--each named after a different butterfly species. Each group or household can spend three minutes in each zone before moving on to the next area.

“This allows different households to be in the pavilion together but apart, safely,” said Kim Zsembik, the museum’s Senior Manager of Guest Services & Butterfly Pavilion. “We’re still trying to create the same positive experience that people have had in years past, in just a more slowed-down, carefully managed sort of safe way.”

There is already an "overwhelmingly positive" response to the opening, according to Swetland. Appointments through this upcoming Sunday are already nearly sold out.

Swetland says the museum has seen frequent philanthropic contributions and excited messages from the community as the staff has prepared to reopen. He calls the support "critical," allowing the museum to keep all of its staff employed and paid during the pandemic.

“People are desperate to get back out of their house and be back here enjoying the museum,” he said. "We're really thankful to the community for their continuing support."

To learn more about the museum or to make a reservation, click here.

Article Topic Follows: Lifestyle

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Ryan Fish

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