Coronavirus: Post-Lockdown FAQs

Answering your questions on keeping people and collections safe

Implementing Covid-19 control measures in museums and heritage sites in a way that is safe for people and collections.

There have been lots of discussions recently about the re-opening of museums and heritage sites (when safe to do so) and the practical measures required to keep staff and visitors safe and to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Quite rightly a lot of discussions have concentrated on high-use areas such as toilets; the safety of front-of-house staff; and the movement of visitors.

However, there are still unanswered questions about the impact that these control measures will have on historic collections and interiors. Icon has started to collect some of the current thinking in this FAQ series. We don’t have all the answers, but we hope that these resources will help those who have responsibility for the care of collections and historic buildings. We also hope that this will be a starting point to encourage collaboration; to find practical solutions; to prevent the replication of work in this area; and to share useful resources.

Please email us your questions and any top tips or additional information. All author contributions will be acknowledged on our website.

How can museum and heritage spaces be cleaned/ disinfected?

Recommendations from the government advise frequent cleaning, how can this be done safely in the historic environment.

Both the articles below recommend detergent in water for cleaning historic surfaces. The article from the National Centre for Preservation Technology and Training promotes isolation as a preferred option and also explains why wet fogging with biocidal solution, bleach and UV are not suitable in spaces with historic collections and interiors.

Guidance from Church Care, Church of England gives information on safe cleaning methods and frequency for cleaning churches but is also applicable to all historic interiors.

Guidance could not be found on how frequent the cleaning should be, but the visibility of cleaning has been suggested will make people feel safer. What level of cleaning is acceptable? Is mild detergent enough to disinfect?

If it comes to light someone who has worked in or visited a place, then tests positive for Covid-19 how should this be dealt with? For historic interiors or objects is isolating the best option, but is there clear guidance on how long this should be for?

Claire Fry, Spencer & Fry and Sarah Lambarth, English Heritage

What is the effect of hand sanitiser on historic surfaces?

The following study on paper showed handwashing is best, but if this is not possible water-based hand sanitiser is better than alcohol-based hand-sanitiser if people will be then touching historic surfaces.

It has been suggested that companies which have switched production to making hand sanitisers are making basic ones without additives which may be preferable. Do we need further research on the effects of hand sanitiser residues on historic surfaces?

Claire Fry, Spencer & Fry and Sarah Lambarth, English Heritage

Can we just stop people touching historic surfaces?

To prevent the need for frequent cleaning of and the effects of hand sanitisers on historic surfaces it would be better to prevent people touching them. Increased signage can be put up to ask people not to touch historic objects. However historic door handles, stair handrails etc. may need to be touched.

Sacrificial coatings, for example extra wax on wooden surfaces could be used to limit the impact of this. Can protective covers be used? Has anyone researched into this?

If historic doors are to be left open to prevent visitors having to open them the environment, security and other risks this may cause should be considered.

Claire Fry, Spencer & Fry and Sarah Lambarth, English Heritage

How can social distancing be encouraged if adhesive markings are not appropriate?

Using floor tape or paint to mark areas on floors to help people keep to a 2m distance been recommended to encourage people to social distance. However, if floors are historic this is not appropriate. Any markings on floors should be non-slip and not a trip hazard, so are there alternatives? Would rubber backed matts placed 2metres apart work etc? Alternatives could be signs on stands or stanchioning off areas.

Giving people 2 metre sticks or asking to wear inflatable rings is also not considered a safe way to encourage social distancing in museum/ heritage spaces.

Mortice Consulting has produced a tracker for museums opening across the world and the measures they are implementing such as social distancing. This is updated weekly and posted on their twitter feed here.

Claire Fry, Spencer & Fry and Sarah Lambarth, English Heritage

What is the smallest space that is safe to open to the public?

It has been suggested smaller galleries/ rooms should not be opened (source?) Whether a space can be safely opened is probably determined by a risk assessment for each individual space. See the HSE website for advice.

One-way systems are easier to control social distancing but may not be possible for all. If implementing a one-way system opens up areas not usually accessible to the public (a second staircase etc) a full risk assessment should be carried out including security measures.

Claire Fry, Spencer & Fry and Sarah Lambarth, English Heritage

Can museums still accept loans?

The document from the Canadian Conservation Institute gives lots of useful information for the issues above and point 15 covers isolation procedures for acquisitions and loans. You can find it here.

Claire Fry, Spencer & Fry and Sarah Lambarth, English Heritage

Could air conditioning, ventilation, heating systems help spread the virus?

There does not seem to be definitive advice if this is the case. Some experts have said it is unlikely, but there is also advice that if air conditioning is re-circulating it should be switched off. The air conditioning industry has set up a task force to investigate the issue. For more information please see the following links:

Any changes to air conditioning or ventilation systems should be discussed with conservators before implementing.

Some suggestions are to upgrade filters and increase natural ventilation. However, this raises the following questions.

Claire Fry, Spencer & Fry and Sarah Lambarth, English Heritage

One recommendation is for rooms to be well ventilated. Can this be done safely?

The increased risks of pollution (including dust), insect pests and potentially higher light and UV levels will have to be considered for each space where it is suggested windows are opened. The security implications should also be considered.

Has anyone considered or developed a risk assessment for this?

Claire Fry, Spencer & Fry and Sarah Lambarth, English Heritage

We donated our PPE and/or we have run out of PPE. Can we get some more?

There are suggestions PPE can be shared between institutions and collective ordering might help (ensuring this does not impact supplies for the NHS and key workers).

Masks and gloves are not always necessary for working on or handling all historic materials. Is there guidance or could this be written on when PPE is needed and when it is not? However, it may be that gloves are required for safety when opening or closing a property and touching surfaces potentially touched by others.

In addition, has anyone thought about activities such as cleaning and what PPE is required if people need to work in close proximity to say move an object? Does each individual need a set of their own equipment or should a sanitising regime for equipment be introduced?

If there is an emergency what does Covid-19 safe salvage look like?

There is guidance being written by Sophia Oelman and Sadie Wilson on how to salvage collections safely. This should be available on the Icon website next week.

Claire Fry, Spencer & Fry and Sarah Lambarth, English Heritage

What are the first things I should do when the museum reopens?

In addition to the implementation of the measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the following documents from Icon and the Collections Care Group and Curae Collections Care give guidance on collection care measures which can be carried out once the museum or heritage site is accessible.

How can I minimise risk when planning an in-person event?

All the usual considerations for minimising risks apply, but you will also need to think about things like shielding vulnerable people, maintaining social distancing, enhanced hygiene measures and Test & Trace and data privacy. 

The Handy Hints guide for Minimising risk - in person events by Heritage Open Days has more information to help you plan ahead.

It is important to regularly review Government guidance and be prepared for changes to ensure risks are minimised. Check the Government website for full details of up to date restrictions and guidance.

Heritage Open Days