By Alfonso Fernandez
Washington, May 14 (EFE).- The Smithsonian Institution, which boast the world’s largest array of museums, re-opened several of its establishments here Friday as a symbol of a return to normality as the United States gradually emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Culture and beauty is coming back,” first lady Jill Biden said at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
The Smithsonian’s museums are major tourist attractions and the re-opening brought the return of food trucks and pedestrians to the National Mall, the esplanade that extends from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.
Thought not part of the Smithsonian complex, the National Gallery of Art likewise began admitting the public again, albeit in limited numbers.
“It is the first day of a new era,” gallery director Kaywin Feldman told Efe. “We are thrilled to reopen after six months of being closed.”
The National Gallery, featuring works by the likes of Velazquez, Manet, Picasso and Van Gogh, is second only to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the number of annual visitors.
“It’s exciting. This building is meant to have people inside and as wonderful as our collection is, it needs people to animate and really bring it all to life,” Feldman said.
In March, the gallery’s 80th anniversary came and went without fanfare as the doors remained closed.
Feldman recalled that as an especially difficult moment for an establishment that President Franklin D. Roosevelt described as a “gift to the nation” when he spoke at the gallery’s inauguration in 1941.
“I think the phrase I’ve heard the most (from visitors) is ‘thank you’ and they talk about how much they’ve missed it in their lives,” she told Efe. “And several people talked about feeding the soul and what that feels like to be back at the National Gallery of Art.”
Among Smithsonian outlets, the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Zoo have re-opened, while several others, including the National Air and Space Museum (located in nearby Chantilly, Virginia) and the National Museum of American History, are to remain closed for a few more weeks.
The mayor of the District of Columbia, Muriel Bowser, has said that all remaining pandemic restrictions in Washington will be lifted on June 12.
Staff and visitors at the museums were still wearing masks, despite Thursday’s announcement by the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that vaccinated people need not wear masks in most situations, whether indoors or outdoors.
“If you are fully vaccinated, you may start doing the things you stopped doing because of the pandemic,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. “We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”
The US has the world’s highest Covid-19 death toll: 581,573, according to the latest figures from the CDC.
Nearly 110 million US residents, more than a third of the population, are fully vaccinated.
President Joe Biden has set a goal of a complete return to normal by July 4, when the US will celebrate the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
On Thursday, he hailed the latest guidance from the CDC as a sign of progress.
“I think it’s a great milestone, a great day,” he said at the White House. “It’s been made possible by the extraordinary success we’ve had in vaccinating so many Americans so quickly.” EFE