Hundreds of movie theaters in New Jersey have been given the green light to reopen this weekend by Gov. Phil Murphy, though they will have to do so under very strict COVID-19 safety regulations.
In a tweet posted Monday morning, Gov. Murphy said that cinemas and other indoor performance venues will be allowed to open their doors again on Friday, provided that face masks are worn by all employees and attendees and social distancing rules are enforced. Venues will also be required to limit their capacity to either 25% of the maximum amount or 150 people, whichever is fewer.
“We are able to take all these steps today because of the hard work millions of you have done to keep pushing down our positivity rate and our rate of transmission, and all the other health metrics we follow, to where we are comfortable and confident in taking them,” Murphy said during his daily COVID-19 briefing.
While the National Association of Theater Owners and major theater chains have promoted their implementation of social distancing protocols, including keeping seats empty between viewing parties and deep cleaning of all auditoriums and public spaces in between screenings, the 25% limit may be too strict for smaller theaters as it would prevent them from selling enough tickets to keep up with operating costs. Most theaters that have reopened worldwide have enforced a 50% capacity limit, which is viewed as a cap that would both allow for social distancing and leave enough seats open to allow theaters to remain profitable.
It remains to be seen how many theaters will choose to reopen under the 25% limit, but Murphy’s announcement will be welcome news to the national chains that operate multiplexes in the state. Last month, NATO filed a lawsuit, alongside major chains like AMC Theaters, challenging the New Jersey’s theater shutdown, though it was ultimately denied by a federal judge. Those chains will now be able to add their New Jersey locations to the hundreds of locations reopening nationwide for the release of Warner Bros.’ “Tenet,” which made $53 million from its release in 41 overseas markets this weekend.
While most U.S. states have given permission to theaters to reopen, several states, including California, New York and Michigan, have kept their theaters closed, aside from drive-ins. California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined on Friday a new, multi-tier reopening system that would allow counties to steadily reopen businesses once they get the rate of new COVID-19 infections down to certain levels, though county health departments can still enforce stricter closure orders if they so choose.
Currently, the majority of California counties have not reached a level where indoor theaters can reopen. Two notable exceptions are San Francisco and San Diego County, both of which under the state system could allow theaters to reopen with 25% capacity.
In New Jersey, over 191,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported since the start of the pandemic in March along with over 16,000 deaths. NATO of New Jersey, the state’s movie theater trade organization, did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.