Los Angeles is now on the verge of reopening movie theaters along with other businesses, but the county needs to improve vaccinations in poorer communities before cinemas can get the green light.
On Tuesday, new data on infection rates from the California Department of Public Health revealed that Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino Counties have suppressed the rate of COVID-19 infections enough to move them to the second level of the state’s four-tier reopening system. This would allow movie theaters to reopen with a 25% capacity limit as early as the weekend of March 19.
But another part of the state’s reopening criteria is how well the state is vaccinating lower-income communities, most of which are predominantly populated by Black and Latino residents. California has set a goal of vaccinating 2 million people in those communities, after which it will relax reopening rules in a way that will allow many counties currently in the lowest reopening tier to move up to level 2. With its new plan of reserving 40% of delivered vaccines for those poorer communities, California expects to reach that 2 million goal sometime in the coming week.
Once it does, the nation’s top 3 moviegoing markets will have reopened as New York City and San Francisco reopened theaters this weekend with a 25% capacity limit. Distributors have long pointed to the reopening of those three cities as a crucial step to ending the delays on film releases, and already films like Sony’s “Peter Rabbit 2” and Universal’s “F9” have swapped spots on the May/June release calendar but have not left summer 2021 entirely, showing the increased confidence that major theatrical releases will soon resume.
But Los Angeles moviegoers shouldn’t expect an immediate reopening of all theaters in the county. As seen in New York, major chains like AMC and Cinemark will be in position to reopen the day Gov. Newsom allows them to do so in L.A., but smaller theater chains may take longer to reopen due to staffing or preparations to meet COVID-19 safety protocols. Several indie theaters in New York City have not yet reopened while all 13 of the city’s AMC locations were able to reopen on Friday, with more reopenings expected to come over the next three weeks.
Studios and cinemas will also be looking for theaters to expand their capacity limit to 50% as soon as possible. Such an increase would not only allow smaller theaters to turn a profit in a way that most can’t with a 25% limit, but it would also allow them to meet the demand that highly-anticipated blockbusters bring. In California, counties need to reach the third reopening tier before theater capacity can expand to 50%.