Bristol Museums closed during the pandemic, in line with government guidance, reopening between lockdowns where staff capacity and health and safety measures allowed. Many staff (especially the front of house team) were redeployed or furloughed. Other people were asked to work from home where possible. The Buildings team and a few others continued to work on museum sites, using a booking system to ensure a minimum staff presence at all times.

New ways on working were challenging, experimental, and developed rapidly. A much bigger focus on digital was apparent almost straight away. The museum hosted some of the annual festivals online, including World In Bristol, the Festival of Archaeology and Black History Month. There were regular curator and archivist talks, virtual tours; quizzes and family activities were regularly posted on social media. More people discovered the museum's online stories and digital exhibitions. Learning sessions for schools were delivered online.

Several new displays were installed ready for re-opening in summer 2021: a Colston statue consultation and Vanguard street art at M Shed (the latter delayed by a year); Bristol Photography Festival displays, 'Reflections on the Bristol School (a museum mental health group project), and a netsuke exhibition at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. A major exhibition on Pre Raphaelite art was cancelled in 2020. 25 paintings were loaned to Musee des Beaux Arts in Bordeaux, and Bristol Museum staff worked with them online to oversee the installation.

Reopening issues in Summer 2021 included staff shortages due to illness, shielding, and covid app 'pings'. Handling activities were removed temporarily. Visitor pre-booking was requested to restrict numbers, and face masks were encouraged, even after they were mandatory. Staff were provided with perspex screens at booths to interact with visitors more safely. Events continued online, and remained popular.