L.A. Movie Theaters Can Reopen Next Week at 25% Capacity

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Movie theaters in Los Angeles will be able to reopen early next week, public health officials said Thursday. The announcement punctuates nearly a year without cinemas in the film capital of the world, and is welcome news to the exhibition industry, which has struggled over the past twelve months since COVID-19 upended daily life.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced Thursday that theaters will be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity sometime between Monday and Wednesday of next week.

Last week, movie theaters in New York City were allowed to reopen at reduced capacity.

In Los Angeles, the county was waiting for the state to distribute two million vaccine doses to underserved populations, a key trigger in the state’s reopening framework. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that California would hit the vaccine milestone on Friday, meaning that counties could move to the “red tier” if they had less than 10 new cases a day per 100,000 people.

Because of short notice, most theaters won’t be able to go back to business right away. The major theater circuits believe their venues won’t be operational until Friday, March 19, because they need more time to hire back staff and implement safety and cleaning protocols. Theaters also say that operating at limited capacity makes it hard to turn a profit, though many cinemas are happy to have some business after nearly a year without revenues.

Under the county rules, theaters will be required to have reserved seating, and groups will have to be spaced at least six feet apart in all directions.

The county is also relaxing rules for several other retail establishments it moves into the red tier. Most notably, restaurants will be allowed to reopen for indoor service, with a 25% capacity limit.

Indoor dining has been one of the more difficult issues in the reopening process, as health officials continue to fear that inadequate ventilation could allow the virus to spread. The county rules require that tables be set eight feet apart, and that only one household with a maximum of six people be allowed to sit at each table indoors. The rules also require that restaurants increase ventilation to the maximum extent possible, and have the air conditioning systems checked.

Museums, zoos and aquariums are also allowed to open at 25% capacity. Gyms, fitness centers, yoga studios and dance studios can open at 10% capacity, provided everyone wears a mask indoors.

With more urban centers such as Los Angeles and New York City loosening restrictions on movie theaters, studios may feel more emboldened to release tentpole films. After COVID-19 struck, many studios delayed their biggest releases. That meant that when cinemas were able to reopen they often had little to play.