The National Association of Theatre Owners is imploring Congress to enact federal relief legislation to save local movie theaters hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

NATO said Monday that the situation is dire and noted that the industry cannot continue to operate in its current state. It pointed out that even in places where movie theaters can reopen, low-capacity mandates and an “anemic” film slate means theaters simply cannot draw the necessary audiences to make them operationally viable.

“American movie theaters need help now,” said John Fithian, NATO president and CEO. “Soon, a vaccine will allow our industry to return to normal, but without bipartisan action now in the lame duck session of Congress, hundreds of movie theaters will not make it. Local communities across the nation are and will be permanently damaged. This Congress and administration still have a job to do.”

NATO noted that cinemas employ over 153,000 individuals nationwide and support and boost millions of jobs in retail, cinema supply chain and motion picture production and distribution. The group issued the statement a few hours after drugmaker Pfizer said early data from its coronavirus vaccine shows it is more than 90% effective. The news jolted the stock market with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining more than 1,100 points.

“Without industry-specific assistance, movie theaters simply will not survive the economic impact of the pandemic,” NATO said. “Congress can save cinemas by including $15 billion for grants for independent venues in a COVID-19 relief package. The ‘Save Our Stages’ proposal is the only solution that will provide the bridge that theaters need to see them into next year, when the industry has a chance at recovery.”

“Save Our Stages” is part of a larger stimulus bill, the details of which are being fought over by the two parties. The North American box office has been hammered since movie theaters began reopening in August and customers remained reluctant to return to multiplexes. Focus Features’ “Let Him Go” led the sluggish weekend box office, opening with an estimated $4.1 million.