Disease & Illness

Movie Theaters Are Reopening—Here’s What Medical Experts Say About Going

This is helpful information.

Movie theaters are pulling out all the stops to get people back in front of the big screen after months of closure.

When AMC Theatres reopened its first wave of cinemas on Aug. 20, tickets for a range of beloved movies, including “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Black Panther,” were priced at just 15 cents each. Another theater chain, Alamo Drafthouse, has private theaters available to rent for $150 for moviegoers who don’t want to mix with the general public.

While most of us don’t want the film industry to suffer, we are still in the middle of a pandemic. And while other countries are seeing their infection numbers drop, tens of thousands of new COVID-19 cases are still being reported across the U.S. every day. So — private screenings aside — how safe is it to go to the movies right now?

Jae C. Hong/AP

In a risk-assessment chart created by Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force and Committee on Infectious Diseases, going to a movie theater was ranked as “high risk,” along with activities like eating at a buffet, exercising at a gym and going to an amusement park.

“Short of renting out an entire theater, which is obviously not an option for most of us, there is no scenario in which going to a movie theater is a good idea,” Dr. Anne W. Rimoin, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center For Global And Immigrant Health at the University Of California, Los Angeles, told The A.V. Club.

Rimoin’s stance is shared by physician and epidemiologist Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former city health commissioner and host of the podcast “America Dissected.” “It’s just about the last thing I’d do right now,” he told The A.V. Club in the same story.

It would be safer to see a movie at an outdoor drive-in theater, Dr. Ravina Kullar, a Los Angeles-based infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist and spokeswoman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told CNBC. These venues let guests enjoy movies in an open space, while staying relatively distant from other people and without leaving their vehicle.

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

How Theaters Are Adapting

Some theater chains have announced hygiene and safety measures to reassure guests. For instance, masks are mandatory for all AMC moviegoers — but you can take your mask off inside the theater to eat and drink. AMC theaters will also only be filled at 30 percent capacity to uphold social distancing guidelines, and cleaning and disinfecting will be carried out between shows.

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you feel safe and comfortable going to a movie theater. However, it’s important to be aware of current advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that you take extra precautions for 14 days if you’ve taken part in a high-risk activity like going to a movie theater. Those steps include staying home as much as possible, avoiding contact with people who may be at higher-risk of illness from COVID-19 and getting tested.