The outlook for movie theaters in Los Angeles just got brighter as the California Department of Public Health announced on Tuesday that the county is cleared to move into the third tier of California’s pandemic reopening system, allowing for cinemas to increase their capacity from 25% to 50%.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will permit businesses to adjust their COVID-19 protocols to fit the less-restrictive “orange tier” starting on Monday, April 5, meaning that local theaters will have to adhere to 25% capacity limits for the opening weekend of “Godzilla vs. Kong.” This is being done to ensure that infection rates in the county do not rise back out of the range needed to qualify for the orange tier as it makes the transition.
Reaching a 50% capacity limit has long been considered by theater owners to be a crucial step in restoring business for cinemas that have been closed for a year. While AMC and Cinemark have reopened hundreds of multiplexes nationwide under a 25% capacity limit — and Regal Cinemas will do the same starting this weekend — thousands of smaller theaters have yet to reopen in part because such a low capacity limit would not allow theaters to sell enough tickets to meet operating costs. In Los Angeles, 55% of theaters are still closed; but this capacity increase, combined with the release of “Godzilla vs. Kong,” could boost the pace of reopening in April.
While the majority of California counties remain in the second tier of reopening, more of the state’s largest box office markets are entering the third tier. Last week, several western Bay Area counties, including San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Marin County, moved up to the third tier. As part of that third tier, amusement parks are allowed to reopen at 25% capacity, something Universal Studios Hollywood announced on Tuesday that it will do on April 16. Outdoor sports venues will also be allowed to host fans at 33% of maximum capacity, just in time for the start of the new MLB season.
So far, California has seen steady progress in reopening its economy, avoiding the increases in new COVID-19 cases that are being seen in dozens of other states like New York thanks to more infectious variants of the virus. Nationwide, the U.S. saw 60,000 new cases in the past week, an increase of 10% from the previous week.
While those increases have yet to force theaters to close again, President Joe Biden warned the public on Monday that the country is in a “life-or-death race” to vaccinate millions before the spread of the variants escalates. California will make the vaccine available to all adults on April 15, with 90% of adults nationwide being eligible to receive one by the end of the month. Still, Biden warned that the country is at risk of “giving up hard-fought, hard-won gains” in the fight against the virus if the public does not continue to practice social distancing while the vaccination process is carried out.
“This is not a time to lessen our efforts,” he said. “We could still see a setback in the vaccination program. And most importantly, if we let our guard down now, we could see a virus getting worse, not better.”