As theaters come back to life across the country, the National Association of Theater Owners is helping remove the guesswork about safe operating practices in the era of COVID-19.
The professional organization announced Friday a set of health and safety protocols based on research and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the Occupational Safety and Heath Administration. More than 300 companies representing more than 2,600 theaters in the United States have already joined the CinemaSafe program.
After a brief green light to reopen in Sacramento, California theaters were ordered to close again on July 13 – for those who had moved forward in welcoming customers again – due to increased viral measures in a certain number of counties.
âIn this new pandemic world, moviegoers need to know that there is a cohesive set of health and safety protocols based on science and experience, no matter which theater they visit,â said John Fithian, president and CEO of the association, in a statement. “This unprecedented industry-wide effort is a promise designed to meet this need.”
The guidelines outline comprehensive mask policies, which are required for employees and customers, with a few exceptions for children under 2 and when consuming concessions – but only when approved by officials. national and local health authorities. The rules state that masks must also be provided to employees who do not have them.
They also outline recommendations for reduced capacity screenings, optimized air filtration, cashless concessions, mobile ticketing, improved cleaning policies, and employee health training on hand hygiene. and the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
The association has been working for months on rule making in consultation with epidemiologists and industry experts. The organization’s board of directors includes executives from major exhibition chains, such as AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, and Cineworld / Regal.
Most indoor theaters closed in mid-March to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This week, the major theater chains in the United States began to slowly reopen their sites. While many have said they are following local mandates and generally accepted best practices, there has not yet been an industry-wide set of guidelines. This lack of oversight has led to situations like the mask backlash which caused all major exhibitors to turn the tide to demand face coverings.
CinemaSafe protocols are voluntary. Businesses that comply with the guidelines can display a CinemaSafe badge on their websites and optionally on their sites so customers are aware.
Dr David F. Goldsmith, an occupational and environmental epidemiologist at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, reviewed the CinemaSafe guidelines.
âThese protocols, and the way they were developed, demonstrate a serious and comprehensive effort by movie theater owners to review all aspects of their operations, identify potential risks and reduce them,â Goldsmith said.
Dr Joyce Sanchez, infectious disease specialist and director of the Travel Health Clinic in Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, said the protocols address: âTwo of the three general concepts that go into activity risk: distance, dose and duration. “
Sanchez said the duration cannot be controlled, but noted that the films run longer than a domestic flight or time spent in a restaurant.
âWhile every activity outside of the home carries risks, these additional measures can help mitigate them,â she added.
The lights began to slow and come back on in theaters across the country on Thursday with AMC Theaters, the country’s largest chain, leading the charge.
AMC has opened some 113 locations across the United States, announcing retro awards and retro screenings to keep audiences coming back to the movies. Regal, the second largest exhibitor, followed suit on Friday. It has been a long time since besieged businesses have experienced multiple false starts due to coronavirus spikes.
Even with no new movie in the peloton, within 30 minutes 17 of the 20 screenings were sold out and there were only a few tickets left for “The Goonies,” “Jumanji: The Next Level” and the Christian movie “I Still Believe.” Tickets for “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Back to the Future” had already sold out for days.
A sold-out sale, however, is not exactly what it used to be. AMC is only selling 30% of its capacity, which at this location represents about 25 people per screen. Each movie only gets two screenings per day to give employees plenty of time to clean up. And show times are also staggered to keep too many people from congregating in the lobby.
However, new films will follow soon, which theaters rely on for survival. Disney’s much-delayed âNew Mutantsâ will debut on August 28, and Christopher Nolan’s âTenetâ will follow shortly thereafter, with some screenings starting August 31.
There was a bit of a learning curve for some customers when it came to new security and social distancing protocols. Some entered with masks lowered to their chins (an employee quickly approached them to ask them to cover their faces). Others were surprised that the concessions were only cash.