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Houston's Museum of Fine Arts becomes first major art museum in the U.S. to reopen amid the coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has caused some of the world's most popular and busiest attractions to close their doors to the public. After a two-month closure, the Houston's Museum of Fine Arts became the first fine arts museum in the U.S. to reopen its doors on Saturday. 

"This has been a thorough process, one that considers many variables," the museum said on its website. "We recognize that circumstances may change at any moment. But we remain hopeful that we will be able to serve our public under the safest possible conditions and under new norms, ones to which Houstonians across the city are already becoming accustomed."

The museum announced visitors will have to adhere to specific new protocols for the main museum, as well as the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens and the Rienzi house museum. 

Along with operating at less than a 25% capacity, the museum is mandating that visitors wear a face mask, have their temperatures checked, and maintain social distancing. The museum will also not accept cash, nor will they allow large bags or food and drinks. The cafe and coat check areas will be closed. 

Guests who show any sign of illness, at any point during their visit, will be asked to leave. MFAH is also recommending that visitors get advanced ticket online. 

MFAH tweeted the news on May 18, writing "from your home to our home, we look forward to welcoming you back to the Museum." 

Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, told Texas Monthly that he has been eager to reopen and wanted to do so safely with permission from officials. Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the state's stay-at-home order on May 1, which also allowed businesses to open. 

The cost of being closed down since March 16 cost the museum roughly $5 million in revenue, according to Texas Monthly. Despite the loss, they maintained and fully paid their 660 permanent staff members, only dismissing short-term contracts. 

"That time has come," Tinterow told Texas Monthly. "I don't believe we're creating an attractive nuisance. I think we are providing the safest possible environment for people to step outside of their houses and enjoy works of art." 

Harris County, where the museum is located, has more than 10,000 cases of coronavirus, according to the Texas Department of Health. The state began reopening with restrictions on May 1, and moved into the next phase earlier this week. 

The museum also reiterated that although they are opening their buildings, they will continue to offer the #MFAH at Home Virtual Experience, which offers virtual films, family activities, and other programs twice a week. 

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