San Diego Automotive Museum
The San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park. Courtesy of the museum

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on museums across the nation, and the San Diego Automotive Museum is no exception.

On March 19, our museum was forced to close its doors to the public. On June 19 the museum was able to re-open its doors, but quickly had to close them July 7 due to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s inclusion of indoor museums in his mandatory order of closures when San Diego was placed on the state’s “watch list” due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

To include museums in the same category as bars, restaurants, wineries, movie theaters and cardrooms is wrong. The common denominator for all these businesses, other than museums, is that patrons linger and remove face masks to eat or drink. Congregating, socializing, eating, and drinking is their essential purpose, and social distancing is extremely challenging.

The arbitrary closure of all indoor museums means that many museums will not reopen. A recently released survey reported that a third of U.S. museum directors say they may not survive another 16 months without “additional financial relief,” while 16% view their institutions at “significant risk of permanent closure” as a result of financial losses incurred throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

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The responses from 760 museum directors surveyed by an outside firm for the American Alliance of Museums confirms what the alliance had feared as museums were forced to close to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and as most expect to experience reduced numbers of visitors once they do reopen.

We believe California should exempt museums from restrictions aimed at bars, restaurants, gyms, and other establishments where social distancing is challenging, masks are not necessarily worn, and COVID-19 has a greater threat of spreading.

The San Diego Automotive Museum has not only met the state’s baseline guidance for reopening, but we have gone beyond the guidelines. We can accommodate 170 people at six-feet apart, but we have limited our capacity to 50 guests at a time. We have rearranged our exhibits so that guests never occupy a space within a 10-foot radius of another group.

We made the flow through the museum directional to ensure social distancing, and can space entry of each group a few minutes apart. We trained our volunteers and staff to wipe down surfaces and immediately close areas if a guest touches something within the museum.

We can sanitize the admissions desk after each transaction, as well as all common areas every hour that the museum is open. We have multiple hand sanitation stations throughout the museum for guests, volunteers, and staff to use. We are prepared with free face masks for all guests when necessary.

The San Diego Automotive Museum is averaging 25 calls a day inquiring if we are open for guests. People want to come to the museum.

We understand and support the need to assist with public health, and have gone above and beyond the basic recommendations to help protect against the spread of COVID-19. But we cannot survive months and months of being shut down, and San Diegans should not tolerate the loss of their treasured museums.

Lenny Leszczynski, the executive director of the local San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park.