Beginning Friday California movie theaters can reopen as long as they limit attendance to 25% of theater capacity or a maximum of 100 customers per auditorium – whichever is lower — with county health officer approval, according to a set of guidelines and recommendations issued as COVID-19 Industry Guidance for Family Entertainment Centers by the state on June 8.
However, for many area independent theaters and entertainment chains actual openings may be delayed for a variety of reasons including staff rehiring and training, making modifications to ensure a safe environment – including hand sanitizer stations and considering the use of seat coverings – along with prepackaging concession items and condiments, removing or blocking off seats that would exceed reduced capacity limits, as well as rules regarding when moviegoers should wear and/or remove masks. Having an advance seat reservation system in place to avoid lines at the box office is also among the state’s guidelines.
There are also detailed guidelines on where widescreen film enthusiasts can park and how close, as well as rules regarding the careful timing of when movies will end and begin to reduce crowd congestion and limit exposure risks. Movie goers must also maintain six feet separation from others as well as family groups, and theater water fountains must be turned off.
The relaxed statewide order issued on Monday also applies to gyms, hotels, restaurants, bars and wineries as well as other business categories as part of its measured, go slow approach to relaxing stay-at-home orders as a way to restart the economy, while hopefully avoiding possible spikes in coronavirus cases. Film, music and television production can also resume subject to labor agreements.
Other entertainment venues, such as bowling alleys, miniature golf courses and arcades can reopen later. Restaurants, churches, hair salons and retail stores have already been allowed to reopen in many counties that meet metrics including the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of population, the rate of test positivity and local preparedness to support a health care surge with emphasis on vulnerable populations, contact tracing and testing.
The latest state decision comes just a few weeks before the start of the summer blockbuster movie season.
Theater operator Cinemark announced its four-phase reopening plan beginning on June 19 after a test phase involving five theaters in Texas on the June 12 weekend, followed by one-third of its locations opening their doors during the next three phases.
North Bay Cinemark locations include Century Cinema-Corte Madera; Century Northgate-San Rafael; Century Regency-San Rafael; Century Larkspur; Century Napa Valley and XD; Century Rowland Plaza, and CineArts Sequoia-Mill Valley.
AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc., said it expects to reopen almost all of its more than 50 theaters in California in July after closing them March 17, but has expressed fears that it may not survive after months without revenue after reporting $2.18 billion first quarter loss.
AMC operates the Metreon 16 theater in Rohnert Park.
In the North Bay, the Santa Rosa Entertainment Group (SREG), doing business as Santa Rosa Cinemas, has an online electronic seat reservation system in place. Some of its theaters have been redesigned to expand aisles to accommodate the introduction of recliner seats with wider spacing at its theaters in Sonoma County. SREG’s list of Sonoma County locations includes Airport Cinema 12, 3rd Street Cinema, Santa Rosa Roxy Stadium 14, the Raven Film Center, and Summerfield Cinemas.