Museums, the aquarium and other cultural institutions, which for months have suffered without visitors and revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic, are ready to welcome the public as Nassau and Suffolk counties enter Phase 4 of the state’s economic reopening plan on Wednesday.
Universities, community colleges and other schools of higher education are continuing remote learning for the summer session but are putting plans in place for some students to return in the fall.
“There is much work still to be done, but this is a significant milestone,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
Phase 4 allows certain low-risk indoor and outdoor arts and entertainment as well as media production and professional sports competitions without fans.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said financially film and movie production is a “huge generator for Nassau County.”
People must continue to wear face coverings and practice social distancing at all of these sites, officials said. While the number of COVID-19 cases across Long Island continues to decline, experts say any loss in vigilance could create an uptick.
“The prevalence of the disease in our area is very low but the recommendations are not going to change — wear masks, practice social distancing, hand hygiene and be careful about touching your eyes,” said Dr. David Battinelli, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Northwell Health. “What changes is where you are allowed to be — not the behaviors.”
Those precautions have proved effective, said Battinelli, but the challenge is making sure people continue.
The Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead has installed protective plexiglass and social distance markers, said executive director Bryan DeLuca. Foot traffic has been changed to flow one way through the aquarium.
“We are really prepared by meeting or exceeding all guidelines,” said DeLuca. “We are excited to get people back through the facility in a safe way and see the sea lions training and feeding session and all the animals everybody has loved and enjoyed over the years.”
The loss of income from admissions — especially school and camp groups — during the pandemic has been difficult for the aquarium, which was open daily for staff to care for the animals.
Institutions such as the aquarium and Cradle of Aviation Museum must limit the number of visitors to 25% of capacity.
“It is important for us to open up because we want to be part of whatever the new normal is going to be,” said Andrew Parton, president of the Cradle of Aviation Museum and Education Center in Garden City. “We are a very large museum with a lot of open space, so social distancing is easier for us than some other places.”
The museum, which opens on Thursday, has a special display for reopening weekend, four recently restored aircraft: the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, the Grumman Agcat, the Grumman X-29 and the Fokker D-VII. Admission is free for health care workers until the end of August.
Many other institutions — the Long Island Children’s Museum, Old Bethpage Village Restoration, the African American Museum and the Parrish Art Museum among them — have not set reopening dates.
“We have been proceeding with tremendous caution,” said Susan Galardi, director of communications for the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill.
The museum, which has been streaming its Friday Night Live! programs since mid-March, is hosting its first in-person event on July 17 and plans to reopen its galleries on Aug. 1.
“For the month of August we will be doing this in a very controlled way with prescheduled tours. In the near future, the hope is to open up to the general public with timed tickets and other modifications,” Galardi said.
Molloy College, Farmingdale State College and Suffolk County Community College will have employees returning to their offices gradually, with COVID-19 safety precautions in place, officials said.
Several Long Island higher education institutions have announced that the population of students on campus this fall will be reduced significantly, with most classes being offered remotely or with a combination of in-person and online instruction.
“Students will have the choice of some in-person classes, but we’re setting up the schedule so that only about one-third of our student population is on campus at any given time for class,” communications director Kathy Coley said of Farmingdale State College.
Though dormitories at the Farmingdale campus can accommodate up to 600 students, only 150 students will be given housing in single rooms, Coley said.
Facial-recognition kiosks that register a person’s body temperature will be installed at every campus building, said Molloy College President James Lentini.
Temperature checks will be required before people can enter buildings and students are required to get COVID-19 tests, provided by the college, before moving into residence halls, he said.
With Rachelle Blidner, Scott Eidler and Lynn Petry
PHASE 4 of reopening includes certain low-risk outdoor and indoor arts and entertainment: outdoor zoos, botanical gardens, museums, historical sites, aquariums as well as institutions of higher education such as universities and community colleges; TV, music and movie production and professional sports competition without fans.