After weeks of preparation and hesitation to reopen, San Mateo County History Museum officials announced Monday doors would finally be opening to the public, just to be told moments later the state would be closing down indoor recreational activities, including museums, statewide.
“Personally, I’m feeling let down. We really were getting ready to see the public again. I understand though,” said Mitch Postel, the president of the San Mateo County Historical Association. “The news has just been terrible and we need to reverse this thing. I get it and understand it, but it’s disappointing.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday in an emergency order that all indoor recreational activities including movie theaters, museums, zoos and other family entertainment centers would be forced to close back down. The announcement followed a statewide resurgence of COVID-19 infections, a highly infectious respiratory disease which originally sent San Mateo County into lockdown mid-March.
Additional venues being told to reclose across the state include indoor dining, wineries and tasting rooms. Both indoor and outdoor bars, pub breweries and brewpubs will have to shutter as well. Restaurants with outdoor dining capabilities will be permitted to continue operations.
Dr. Scott Morrow, the county health officer, said in a press release Monday that the rollbacks of reopening efforts “emphasize the need for all of us to do our part” in slowing the spread of the disease by wearing face coverings, honoring social distancing protocol and limiting activities.
Although the county saw a record one-day report high of 108 new cases on Friday, contributing to a total of 4,045 cases countywide, San Mateo County has remained off the watch list of high risk areas. The county’s rolling seven-day positivity rate stands at 4.9%, below the state average of 7.7%. All of the 30 other counties on the watch list have been forced to close additional spaces such as hair salons, gyms, churches, malls and other businesses.
Just before the state announcement, Postel and his team had sent out an announcement of their own, informing the public of plans to reopen the Redwood City based museum along with two additional historical sites, the Woodside Store and Sanchez Adobe, on July 21.
“When we set that date, things were looking up. California was reopening and other museums jumped right on it. We decided to take more time to make sure we were prepared,” said Postel. “We wanted to make sure we had all our cleaning protocols in order and that staff felt comfortable coming in.”
The late July reopening would have been the first time the general public would have access to the institutions since closing in March. Postel said he felt disappointed with the state announcement but noted he had his own concerns of how feasible a reopening was considering the rise of coronavirus cases.
“I wasn’t expecting it but even in early July I thought to myself ‘I wonder if this is really going to happen.’ Maybe I was tempting fate. That was part of the reason we didn’t just zoom immediately into reopening. We wanted to see what transpired,” said Postel.
Nearly four months into shuttering, Postel said the museum has suffered financially from a loss of admissions revenue, gift shop sales and venue leasing revenue for events like weddings and fundraisers. Despite the setback, Postel expressed confidence in the survival of the museum and excitement for a virtual version of the annual History Maker fundraiser, a banquet held to honor an individual who’s made a lasting impression within the county.
“We intend to come back. We will come back. If we’re talking about this in the context of can you last another six months, we’ll be OK,” said Postel who added museum financial reserves would get the institution through the closure though an additional year of shuttering could lead him to worry.