Increased vaccinations and changes to California’s reopening system will allow theaters to open with a 25% capacity limit
After being closed for a year, movie theaters in Los Angeles have finally received approval to reopen early next week thanks to changes in the California reopening system that allowed L.A., Orange and San Bernardino counties to enter the second tier.
As part of changes to the system installed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, once the state has administered 2 million vaccines in poorer communities, the threshold allowing counties to enter the second tier relaxes from 7 cases per 100,000, to 10 per 100,000. California met that vaccine goal on Friday.
“We plan to move into the red tier very soon and that allows for more reopening and permitted activities in L.A. County,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, said in a statement on Thursday. “This milestone is the result of businesses and individuals working together and doing their part to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. it will be up to everyone, businesses and resident, to continue driving down transmission and to follow safety directives closely to keep everyone as safe as possible by preventing increases in cases. When even relatively small numbers of businesses and individuals fail to adhere to the safety precautions, many others experience tragic consequences.”
Despite this change, it is expected to take several weeks for all of Los Angeles’ cinemas to reopen their doors. In New York, where theaters were given 10 days notice before their March 5 reopening, major chains like AMC were able to reopen right away while smaller, independent cinemas took more time to reopen. With L.A. theaters receiving even less advance notice, the reopening process may last through early April.
But the reopening is still a major step towards recovery for the box office, as now the three largest box office markets — New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco — have reopened theaters with a 25% limit. Having the top markets open again is an essential step to films returning to theatrical release, and studios are showing more confidence that theaters will be ready to go for early summer blockbusters like “Black Widow,” “Peter Rabbit 2,” and “F9.”
According to ComScore, approximately 45% of theaters in the U.S. and Canada have reopened so far, and the industry is expected to pass 50% within the next week. Studios and theaters hope to have theaters in the top 20 cities open by the end of April and for officials to expand the capacity limit to 50% as soon as possible to allow for stronger box office revenue. In California, counties must reach the third tier of the reopening system in order for audience capacity levels
Movie theaters have been identified by epidemiologists as one of the riskiest environments for contracting COVID-19 due to prolonged exposure to air particles exhaled by other audience members. But theater owners and lobbyists have insisted that safety protocols that have been enforced at reopened theaters worldwide — including mandatory mask-wearing, at least 6 feet of distance between moviegoing parties and updated air filtration systems to bring outside air into auditoriums — will be enough to prevent cinemas from becoming hotbeds for virus outbreaks.
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