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Most North Shore museums remain closed during Phase 4


Long Island began Phase 4 reopening of the economy on July 8, including universities and colleges.

The governor said all 700 public school districts have been directed to develop reopening plans, but he is taking a wait-and-see approach whether students will head back to their school buildings in September.

In addition to higher education, industries that are now open include:

Film and music production.

Low-risk indoor arts and entertainment.

Low-risk outdoor arts and entertainment.

Professional sports without fans.

Low-risk indoor entertainment includes museums, historical sites and aquariums. Examples of low-risk outdoor entertainment are zoos, botanical gardens and nature parks.

Sue Sarna, the museum curator at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, said a plan of how they would open the grounds and restrooms safely was sent recently to the state regional office. But although she would like to open the Old Orchard Museum — once Ted Roosevelt Jr.’s home — Sarna would like some help with how to do so safely, she said, which is in currently in short supply. Aside from Sarna, there is only one person in charge at Sagamore Hill because a superintendent still has not been chosen and the chiefs of interpretation and maintenance are no longer there either.

She said that there may be a way to open the Old Orchard in future but President Theodore Roosevelt’s house, once the Summer White House, will remain closed for a variety of reasons. “The openings to some of the rooms are only 36 inches so people can’t safely distance,” Sarna said. “And even if we gave a tour to only a family, the walls are covered in historic fabric so if someone touched it or the railing on the staircase I can’t use bleach to clean it.”

She added that she has heard that companies are working on different cleaning fluids for house museums like Sagamore Hill but none have a product yet.

Another reason why it would be difficult to offer tours in the house is that the volunteers are over age 60 and Sarna said they are not comfortable coming back.

Plans for Sagamore Hill will eventually include a tent outside on the grounds with rangers who will share some general information on the site’s history. She hopes other outdoor programs will follow later this summer.

Right now, the trails remain open and Sarna said she is hopeful that the beach will open soon.

“We have been told by the Park Service that we are not allowed to force anyone to wear a mask,” she said. “We are run by the federal government.”   

Denice Evans-Sheppard, the executive director at the Oyster Bay Historical Society, said preparations for a reopening are being discussed. She predicted that the opening would begin outside. “We are planning different things that will make the community comfortable,” she said. “We are considering an Antique Roadshow or an afterhours social mixer to utilize our lawn between the Earl Wightman House and the Koenig Center. We would put historical photos out to spark conversation. We want to start out slow to keep everyone safe and to follow the protocols from the government.”

The society’s walking tours will continue, which Evans-Sheppard will lead. An hour and a half in length, she said the tours will focus on whatever people are interested in. Those who wish to take a tour can sign up on the society’s website, unlike before, when they could pay in cash.

“This pandemic gave us time to reassess how to do things and it gave me insight into what’s lacking,” she said. “We need to be  more proactive to the community.”

People want to do research and utilize the society’s collection, which includes many historical documents. Evans-Sheppard said she is working on making the collection more accessible by digitalizing it. “We don’t want to put people on hold if there is, God forbid, a second wave,” she said.

Raynham Hall, the former home of Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring member Robert Townsend, is hoping to begin a program called “Hanging Out With the Historian” soon. Claire Bellerjeau, the house museum’s education director and historian will meet visitors outside in the garden and tell the story of the house. “We have so many great stories from Raynham Hall and have the benefit of a lovely garden where we can all social distance,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to chew the fat with a historian.”

It would be difficult to allow visitors to safely come into the museum, said Theresa Skvarla, the director of public relations. The people who work there would have to wear personal protective equipment, she said, and it would be impossible to sanitize all of the rooms. “We don’t want to rope off the upstairs and it is hard to keep 6 feet apart in the house,” she said. “We will reevaluate in September to see the infection rate.”

The Whaling Museum and Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor reopened on July 14. The hours are shorter, from noon to 4 p.m., but the museum is open seven days a week. Cindy Grimm, the assistant director, said that to ensure a contactless experience visitors are required to purchase their tickets online.

Precautionary measure have been added, including arrows on the floor to assist visitors in following a one way self guided walk. Everyone is required to wear a mask and the front desk is protected by plexiglass, she said.

Children love the crafts at the museum so a decision was made to keep them. The crafts are now self-serve and only 15 people can be in the craft area at one time. There are three separate tables that are disinfected in between visitors.

“We also have a sign on our water fountains,” Grimm said. “No one can use them during the coronavirus.”

No more than 50 people will be permitted to enter the museum at one time, meaning sometimes people may have to wait outside, she said. Noting that a few people had come in the early afternoon when they first opened, Grimm said she is encouraged.

The governor praised New Yorkers for their vigilance and resilience throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. He said, though, that he worried people might become apathetic and arrogant, believing they had beaten the virus.

He noted that the infection rate remains just below 1 percent statewide — down from nearly 17 percent on Long Island and more than 20 percent in New York City at the height of the pandemic in April.

More than 54,000 New Yorkers were tested for the coronavirus on July 5, and 518 of them were positive for the disease.

“The numbers have actually declined since we started reopening” eight weeks ago, Cuomo said.

He also said there were fewer than 10 deaths statewide overnight from July 5 to 6. But he said, the virus is still out there, so people must continue to wear masks and maintain social distancing in public spaces, according to state law. He implored local police departments to enforce the law.