Is it safe to go to the movies?

is it safe to go to the movies
Photo via Ernesto Andrade/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)

The world’s self-proclaimed biggest movie theater chain announced it will officially reopen theaters in the United States on Aug. 20, raising the question of, is it safe to go to the movies during a pandemic?

In a press release, AMC announced the reopening of its doors along with the news that tickets would cost just 15 cents on Aug. 20 in celebration of the chain’s centennial anniversary. 

“We are thrilled to once again open our doors to American moviegoers who are looking for an opportunity to get out of their houses and apartments and escape into the magic of the movies,” Adam Aron, CEO and President of AMC Theatres, said in the press release.

The press release details the health and safety regulations the chain plans to implement in theaters across the country. Called AMC Safe & Clean, the comprehensive health and sanitation program was developed by staff from Harvard University’s School of Public Health and Clorox. 

Changes to AMC Theatres include reduced theater capacities to 30% or less, masks required at all times unless eating, a smaller food menu, condiments only available by request, and refills temporarily unavailable. 

In October, the Cineworld chain, which owns Regal Cinemas, announced it would close all of its theaters after the new James Bond movie was postponed until April 2021. Regal is the second-biggest U.S. chain, behind AMC, and no reopening date has been determined. In late October, Quartz reported that AMC was running out of money and was potentially facing bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Cinemark, the nation’s third-biggest movie chain, announced a 96% decline in revenue for the third quarter.

But after Pfizer announced that its vaccine candidate was 90% effective thus far, the stocks of movie theater chains rose (the week after that, Moderna said its vaccine candidate was nearly 95% effective). “We have not heard good news for a while, and this is unqualified good news,” Rich Gelfond, CEO of Imax Entertainment, told Variety. “This is potentially a game-changer. It gives us greater clarity about when and how this pandemic may end.”

Experts worry whether it’s safe to go to the movies

Despite AMC and other theater chains’ new health and safety regulations, infectious disease experts remain wary about recommending a trip to the movies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still lists going to a movie theater as a “higher risk activity.” 

In June, when AMC had originally said it would reopen theaters before postponing, health experts told CNBC they didn’t think it was wise to go to a movie theater. Still, theaters across the country—from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to Colorado—are slowly beginning to pop the popcorn again.

“I would honestly say I’m not comfortable going to the movies right now,” Dr. Carlos Del Rio, an Atlanta-based infectious diseases specialist, told CNBC. “I want to see the numbers come down, want to see the cases go down. Right now, the only place I am comfortable going to the movies is my living room.”

According to CNBC, the main reason experts had for staying away from theaters was a skepticism that employees could enforce masks in a dark theater. 

Dr. Robert Lahita told Vulture that he is most worried that viewers can take their masks off to eat concessions. 

“I think it’s extraordinarily dangerous,” Lahita said. “I understand that everybody wants to be entertained and come out of their homes and all of that. But a drive-in theater would probably be a lot safer.”

For people who are itching to return to theaters, Lahita gave some advice about the safest way to do it. He recommended frequent handwashing, wiping down your seat with a disinfectant before sitting, and wearing a mask the whole time. 

Like any public space, there will always be a risk of transmission. Moviegoers should protect themselves by following the CDC’s main guidance during the pandemic: Keep at least six feet apart from others, wear a mask, and wash your hands often. But keep in mind, even one of the biggest movie stars in the world couldn’t avoid a COVID-19 infection.

On Labor Day weekend, Tenet was finally released to U.S. theaters after months of delays. Plenty of people went to the movies to see it. According to Variety, the film generated $20.2 million in the U.S. on its opening weekend, and so far, it’s made close to $150 million internationally. It’s been widely seen as a disappointment in the box office. As a result, the openings of potential blockbusters have been postponed. Wonder Woman 1984 has been pushed back from October to around Christmas time, while Black Widow has been moved to May 2021.

Meanwhile, the filming of a new Jurassic World movie had to be postponed in the U.K. after there were “a few” positive COVID-19 tests in October.

Is it safe:

Sources: AMC, CDC, CNBC, Vulture

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