After being closed for a year, movie theaters in Los Angeles have finally been cleared to reopen early next week thanks to changes in the California reopening system that allow 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 seven cases per 100,000 people to 10 per 100,000 people. 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 residents, 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.”
Still, it’s 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 get back to business 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 toward recovery for the box office, as the three largest box office markets — New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco — will now be able to reopen theaters with a 25% capacity limit. That’s essential for getting films to return to theatrical releases, 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 thus far, and the industry is expected to pass 50% within the next week.
Epidemiologists have identified movie theaters 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 at reopened theaters worldwide — including mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing and updated air filtration systems — will be enough to prevent cinemas from becoming hotbeds for virus outbreaks.