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July 28, 2020

Eastern State Penitentiary to reopen with COVID-19 health and safety protocols

The historic site in Fairmount will require guests to wear masks, purchase tickets in advance

Museums Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State Penitentiary Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

Eastern State Penitentiary has been closed since March due to the public health crisis. When it reopens in August, guests must wear masks and purchase tickets in advance online.

After being shut down for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eastern State Penitentiary will resume operations on Friday, Aug. 14. It will be open Fridays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the prison museum's first reopening phase.

Before then, the 200-year-old historic site has invited members to special preview nights.

When Eastern State Penitentiary reopens its doors next month, the experience will be very different for both staff and visitors.

Timed tickets must be purchased in advance online and will not be available at the door.

However, reservations are not required for members, guests with free ticket vouchers or visitors who purchased tickets via a third party vendor.

Capacity will be limited to 25%, and both customers and employees must wear face coverings at all times. Eastern State Penitentiary masks can be purchased when ordering tickets.

Social distancing also will be required. The former prison will have markers to ensure visitors and groups remain six feet apart at all times. There will be one-way foot traffic.

In addition, staff has increased cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surface areas, and hand sanitizer stations have been set up across the facility. Doors will be kept open, whenever possible, to increase ventilation and plexiglass has been installed at any points of interaction.

Group tours remain banned, printed maps will not be available and all events will remain virtual until further notice. Audio guides will be available and will be thoroughly sanitized between uses. Disposable earbuds will be provided to visitors.

The museum store is closed but a limited number of merchandise will be sold at a small, pop-up store. Drinks and convenience items only can be bought with a credit or debit card.

Eastern State Penitentiary was part of a group of local museums that shared information on their reopening plans earlier this month, but until recently had only announced a "late summer" reopening date.

The prison in Fairmount has already suspended "Terror Behind the Walls" this upcoming fall and laid off 40% of its staff due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Eastern State Penitentiary was named a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and inmates were vacated in 1970. Tours of the site began in 1994, with more than 10,000 visitors the first years the building opened. Construction of the prison began in 1822 and the first inmate was moved there in 1829.

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