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Virginia phase two reopening includes Southwest Virginia Museum

Mike Still • Jun 5, 2020 at 9:00 AM

BIG STONE GAP — Thursday was a late spring cleaning day for Aaron Davis and his staff at the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical Park.

The facility on Friday joins other museums, gyms, restaurant dining rooms and some entertainment and recreation venues in Phase Two of Virginia’s reopening of businesses and public spaces. Davis, the park manager, said Friday will mark the first time the museum will have been open since it reopened from its normal winter hiatus in early March.

“We want people to feel safe when they visit here,” Davis said, taking a break from yard work on the park grounds. “People want to get out of the house, and this is a good place to go. It’s a perfect time with the roses in bloom on the grounds, and people can bring a picnic lunch and eat outside.”

The museum will be able to handle up to 48 visitors at any one time under Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 65, which will allow museums to operate at 50% capacity.

“We have four floors here and that allows 12 people per floor at any one time,” Davis said. “That will allow for social distancing.”

Assistant Manager Martha Wiley said visitors will be able to browse the gift shop on the ground floor, as she readjusted racks of T-shirts and souvenirs. Only one of each item will be on display, Wiley said, but more merchandise will be kept in a side room so visitors can ask for items without unnecessary handling by other people.

Davis said sneeze guards and card payment machines will be placed at the main desk to help with social distancing, and two small interactive museum displays will be deactivated to help avoid contamination issues for museum patrons. Staff also will be busy during museum hours with frequent cleaning and disinfecting under state guidelines, he added. Visitors who don’t have face masks will be provided with complimentary face coverings to comply with state emergency orders for wearing masks in indoor public places and businesses.

“Except for the interactive displays, you’ll be able to see every display we have in the museum,” Davis said. “We have a fashion exhibit of Victorian-era clothes that we opened right before we had to close for the pandemic, and that will be on view.”

The pandemic emergency forced cancellation of the museum’s annual Gathering in the Gap music and crafts festival this year, but Davis said headliners Crystal Gayle and Dave Eggar have agreed to perform at the Gathering in 2021.

“Booking agents were inundated with calls when the pandemic hit,” Davis said, “but they were great to work with us and we basically transferred this year’s main stage lineup to next year.”

Another state facility — the University of Virginia’s College at Wise — found itself authorized to open its Winston Ely Health and Wellness Center. While most college facilities are closed now under executive orders, college spokesperson Kathy Still said the Ely Center offers public memberships and falls under the Phase Two reopening for gyms and sports facilities. Still said the Ely Center will reopen Monday to allow for health and safety preparations required under Executive Order 65.

For more information on the Southwest Virginia Museum, visit : www.facebook.com/vaspsouthwestvirginiamuseum/.

For information on Ely Center reopening hours, visit www.facebook.com/UVaWiseWellness/.

For the full text of Executive Order 65, visit: www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/governor-of-virginia/pdf/eo/EO-65-Phase-Two.pdf.

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