How do we safely open coming out of lockdown?

One of the biggest issues for botanic gardens will now be how to come out of lockdown and quarantine. We need to manage social-distancing effectively during a time when we want to be open to the public and welcome visitors. While open, we need to ensure that we keep visitors socially distanced, and at the same time provide them with services, including restaurants, toilets etc. How do we manage events at this time too and maximize or recover earned income? Keeping our own staff safe too is important once we reopen. This includes PPE use, limiting contact between staff and visitors and other issues. What will be the role of ticketing and in particular timed ticketing?

  • These questions come directly from Dr. Peter Wyse Jackson (Missouri BG) and I would be very interested for your feedback!

We have some information from Chinese and other Eastern gardens about phased re-opening.

For example, the following conditions have been applied:

  1. Numbers of visitors is limited and hours of operation reduced
  2. Only people who book online first are allowed entry
  3. All people booking entry have to give their name and contact details for tracing purposes if necessary. IDs are checked at the gate
  4. Temperatures are measured for all visitors using infra-red cameras
  5. All visitors are required to wear masks and maintain social distancing of no less than 1 meter in queues (elsewhere the distance is 2 meters)
  6. Catering and indoor attractions are closed or for large glasshouses, numbers of people are limited.

I’m sharing some of the Reopening Operational Protocols that have been adopted by the Missouri Botanical Garden which I hope might be helpful for others.

**Social Distancing and Capacity Limits
Timing, operating hours, and visitor limitations:

  • Opening hours 9 am–4 pm, Tuesday-Sunday
    • Closed Mondays for supplemental cleaning
    • No early morning walking hours

**Controlling capacity:

  • Beginning June 9, advance-purchased timed tickets will be required to keep visitor numbers below 10% of our capacity of 16,000.
  • Tickets will be available in 60-minute time slots online and by phone only;
  • no walk-up or on-site, day-of on-site purchases initially.
  • With close monitoring of visitor and staff compliance with these new operational protocols, we will gradually increase capacity to no more than 20%.
  • Ticket sales and entry parties restricted to 10 persons or fewer.
  • Indoor and outdoor events of more than 10 persons are suspended until further notice.
  • Visitors will be encouraged to keep walking time in the Garden to 75 minutes or less to maintain an environment where safe social distancing can be practiced. The Garden will utilize multiple methods to communicate visitation time limits including, but not limited to, Garden website, social media, onsite signage, direct conversation with visitor service staff as visitors enter Garden, onsite signage, and language printed on ticket purchase receipts. We will also control by monitoring the number of visitors in the Garden at any given time by monitoring entry and egress counts.

**Maintaining social distance and touchless transactions:

  • Entry/exit procedures include checkpoint to enter parking lot gates.
  • Visitors must have tickets prior to entering the main parking lot.
  • Separate one-way entry and exit on to and around grounds, and touchless ticket scanning.
  • Stanchions employed for safe queuing, markers on ground at 6-ft intervals.
  • Children’s Garden and water play areas are closed.
  • Interactive features remain offline (photo ops and climbing areas roped off limits).
  • Staff will monitor and educate visitors via distant interaction as well as additional signage to reinforce social distancing protocols.
  • Plexiglas barriers, touchless and cashless transactions at all point of service (POS) locations on the grounds; no signatures required on all credit card transactions.
  • Membership Desk and Visitor Services ticket stations relocated to front-facing windows to provide a barrier between attendant and guests for all transactions.
  • The Garden’s CafĂ© and Shop will be subject to appropriate restrictions.
  • Security will be available at all times to ensure that social distancing and safety requirements are being followed by visitors.

Limited Visitor Access to Buildings, Attractions, and Amenities

The following spaces will be OPEN with restrictions and modifications:

  • Paths and display gardens
  • Signage encouraging social distancing and one-way only paths.
  • Staff/Security designated at peak bloom display gardens to ensure social distancing.
  • All narrow paths in smaller display gardens not in bloom will be blocked off.
  • Separate entry and exit route into the Garden for all visitors.
    • Hand sanitizing stations available throughout the Garden.
    • Elevator limited to exit only. Only one family unit per departure. Attendant to wipe down after each use and manage traffic flow. Entry moved to a no stair/elevator route.
  • CafĂ©
    • Plexiglas at ordering counter to protect staff and visitors.
    • Cashless payments/No sign for credit card transactions.
    • Pre-packaged limited menu grab-and-go items for quick order fulfillment.
    • Stanchions and 6’ spacing for line queuing.
    • One-way path with social distancing required.
    • No indoor dining. Limited outdoor dining space only.
  • Garden Shop
    • Plexiglas at sales counter to protect staff and visitors.
    • Cashless payments/No signature required for credit card transactions.
    • Modify fixture and store layouts to create additional spacing.
    • Stanchions and 6’ spacing for line queuing outside of shop.
    • Hand sanitizing machine in Shop.
    • Actively control capacity in accordance with the occupancy regulations for retail space.
  • Limited restroom facilities on grounds.
    • Alternating stalls and urinals in restrooms will be closed.

Enhanced Sanitation and Hygiene Protocols

  • Increased frequency and intensity of cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces (such as handrails, signage, seats, and benches) following national guidelines; cleaning protocols will be communicated through signage and website. Only EPA-approved cleaning products will be utilized.
  • Restrooms will be monitored hourly and disinfected based on CDC guidelines.
  • All doors will remain propped open with doorstops for touchless entry, including entrance, exit, and all restrooms.
  • Additional hand washing/hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the Garden, including all POS locations and strategically around Garden grounds. All sanitizing stations will utilize solution containing at least 70% alcohol.
  • Drinking fountains and ice machines will be closed or covered; contactless refillable water bottle stations will be available.
  • Trash cans will be limited to the area near the Visitor Center in outdoor dining area only.
    • No sorting of trash.
    • Visitors will be asked to take refuse out of the Garden for proper disposal via signage on all public trash can locations.
  • Wheelchairs and scooters available; sanitized before and after each use.
    • Check in/Check out procedures modified to be contactless transactions.
  • Lost and Found will be limited to credit cards, cell phones, and IDs only. Each will be put in individual bags to limit contact.

Visitor Safety Protocols

  • Protective face coverings will be required for all guests nine years of age or older in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and St. Louis City recommendations.
  • Visitors must maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from any other non-related person.
  • Visitors without an advance ticket will not be allowed to enter; no access to dining or retail without ticket.
  • Visitors will be encouraged to arrive during 60-minute time slot only; early arrivers must remain in their vehicle until their time slot.
  • Visitors encouraged not to arrive more than 15 min before or after the printed time on the ticket to maintain proper social distancing at entry point. We cannot guarantee that visitors who arrive late will be admitted.
  • All visitor email contact information will be collected at time of ticket reservation for potential contact tracing.
  • Visitors who are sick are required to stay home. For those visitors who are sick and unable to visit the Garden on their ticketed date, the Garden will utilize a flexible ticket refund/date exchange policy so visitors may easily reschedule their visit without any financial consequence. .
  • Social distancing signs will be strategically located around the Garden where people tend congregate (e.g., display gardens in peak bloom).
  • Physical maps will be eliminated and only issued in digital form. Map containers in buildings will be empty.
  • Groups (including walking groups), events, and programming will be limited based on current local guidelines (10 persons or fewer).
  • When severe weather is forecast, guests will be advised to stay alert to potential severe weather and return to their vehicles should warnings be issued.

Employee Safety Protocols
Changes to work schedules and practices:

  • Critical staff needed onsite will work staggered arrival shifts to promote social distancing upon reporting to work.
  • All staff that are not required to be present in the Garden will continue to telecommute and support activities remotely.
  • All meetings will be held online. Only when absolutely necessary, in-person meetings will be available in designated meeting spaces based on occupancy limits with social distancing strictly enforced.
  • Staff work schedules will be adjusted for critical onsite staff to maintain public areas outside of visitor hours, or in work areas temporarily closed for maintenance and cleaning.
  • Volunteers will not be assigned shifts but will be kept informed of status and provided with online training regarding health protocols for when it is safe for them to return.
  • Staff reopening task force will hold regular check-in meetings to evaluate effectiveness of plan and address issues.
  • Occupancy signage for breakrooms, conference rooms, and other staff areas will be posted to ensure appropriate distancing. All doors will remain open to provide adequate airflow. There will be signage throughout the Garden to remind employees to practice social distancing.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):

  • Staff will be required to wear protective face coverings per CDC guidelines—assuming no medical condition which would prevent wearing a face covering—to limit respiratory illness (including coronavirus) spread and to model behavior for visitors. Face coverings or supplies to make face coverings will be provided to all staff.
  • Gloves and hand sanitizer will be provided to all front-line visitor facing staff.
  • Disinfecting spray and wipes will be available to staff at all times to be used in accordance with CDC guidelines for sanitation.
  • Appropriate additional PPE will be worn by all employees based on their job responsibilities and in adherence to state or local regulations and CDC guidelines. All employees will receive training on how to effectively use and dispose of all PPE equipment.

Screening:

  • All staff working on Garden grounds will be screened prior to each shift. Employees will be required to complete a health screening questionnaire followed by a temperature check prior to the start of each shift. Only those staff who pass both the health screening questionnaire and temperature check will be allowed to enter the Garden and report for work.
  • Staff with Covid-19 symptoms (coughing, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell) will be required to stay home and self-quarantine. Staff will be allowed to return to work after meeting all criteria for return to work based on CDC guidelines. Any staff who show symptoms at arrival or during their shift will be sent home and allowed to return to work after meeting all criteria for return to work based on CDC guidelines. Those who are exposed to someone with Covid-19 will be required to stay home and allowed to return to work after meeting criteria for return to work based on CDC guidelines. The Garden’s HR team will provide support to ensure that returning staff meet the required criteria.
  • Anyone failing a screening will be directed to a dedicated quarantined space.
    • Areas where suspected cases of Covid-19 were inhabited will be closed off and sanitized completely in accordance with CDC guidelines.

Hygiene and sanitation protocols:

  • Shared tools and equipment will be sanitized after each shift or anytime the equipment is transferred to a different employee. This includes phones, radios, POS stations, computers, kitchen items, facility tools, keys, time clock stations, cleaning equipment, and all other direct contact items used throughout the Garden.
  • Only one person will be allowed to use a work vehicle at a time. Vehicles will be disinfected at end of each use by the user.
  • Cleaning materials will be provided to staff who are expected to clean their own workspaces at the beginning and end of each shift or during staff changes.
  • Staff will be given breaks as often as needed throughout the day to wash their hands or to use sanitizer when handwashing is not available. Handwashing will be required after any of the following activities: using the restroom, sneezing, touching the face, blowing the nose, cleaning, eating, drinking, and before or after starting a shift. The Garden will provide all staff with 70% alcohol sanitizer.
  • Sanitizers provided by the Garden will be at least 70% alcohol based.
  • Use of common areas and breakrooms will be limited. Doors will be left open at all times, when in use.
  • Staff-only restrooms will be designated, cleaned and disinfected regularly. Doors will be propped open where possible.

Training:

  • Employees will be trained to contact Garden Security if they notice a guest with a cough, shortness of breath, or other known symptoms of respiratory illness (including Covid-19) and for any other medical emergency (e.g., heart attack, stroke, etc.)
  • Staff will be provided with training regarding new safety and sanitation protocols prior to reopening, then monitored onsite for compliance.

Communication

  • Website created and continually updated that clearly offers ticketing information, “Know Before You Go” health and safety measures, and map of restricted areas.
  • Email confirmations with visitor instructions and digital maps.
  • LiveStream and recorded videos of entrance and exit procedures to accompany “Know Before You Go” information posted on website and shared on social media and in email blasts.
  • Onsite signage will educate guests regarding respiratory illness (including Covid-19) symptoms and reinforce social distancing behavior.
  • Staff and directional arrows will direct one-way circulation where paths are narrow to allow 6-foot distancing.
  • Staff will be provided with training regarding new safety and sanitation protocols prior to reopening, then monitored onsite for compliance.
  • Staff reopening task force will hold regular check-in meetings to evaluate effectiveness of plan and address issues.
  • Established onsite safety team will evaluate effectiveness of plan and address issues with task force. Any modified protocols will be communicated throughout as necessary.

This plan represents our best thinking given the current understanding of the coronavirus and its transmission. However, as we learn more from health experts and government agencies, we will alter our practices to accommodate the most current recommendations. Flexibility and responsiveness are essential to the successful reopening of the Missouri Botanical Garden, and we are committed to moving forward with those principles in mind.

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Dr. Peter Wyse-Jackson, many thanks, it is a most useful guide for other botanical gardens. Best of luck to you and your wonderful Missouri Botanical Garden.