New Safety Standards for Moviegoing as U.S. Theaters Reopen

LOS ANGELES — “Some people go to the gym. Some people go to church,” Megan Colligan, the president of Imax Entertainment, said at a news conference on Friday to mark the reopening of theaters in much of the United States. “And some people really do need to go to the movies.”

The film industry is holding its breath that she is right.

For the first time since March, when the pandemic brought much of American life to a halt, the nation’s major multiplex chains are selling tickets and serving popcorn again — although not in six states (New York, California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland and New Mexico) where government officials say it remains too dangerous.

To help convince the rest of the country that moviegoing is safe, Ms. Colligan and the chief executives of the four largest theater chains in the United States — AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, Marcus Theaters and Regal Cinemas — appeared together via Zoom on Friday to announce uniform health protocols: mask requirements, limited capacity, no condiment stations, plexiglass partitions and enhanced air-filtration systems (or at least in top working order).

Most of the protocols, including limiting capacity to 40 percent or 50 percent (depending on the chain), had already been announced piecemeal by the companies. But consumer research, they said, indicated that moviegoers wanted to know that standards were uniform.

So they unveiled a campaign called CinemaSafe. More than 2,600 theaters operating more than 30,000 screens in the United States have signed on, according to the executives. Participating locations will display logos with a green check mark on a theater seat and the slogan “Your safety is our focus.”

The group also sought to position moviegoing as no different from other public activities to which many people had returned, like eating in restaurants. Dr. Joyce L. Sanchez, an infectious-disease expert at the Medical College of Wisconsin, noted that most films run about 90 minutes to two hours.

“It’s pretty similar to the time on a short-distance flight, which a lot of America is doing at this point,” she said at the news conference, which was organized by the National Association of Theater Owners, a trade group. Dr. Sanchez was not paid by the theater association to give her assessment of CinemaSafe.

But what about mask enforcement (in the dark, no less)? Some airlines have been kicking people off flights if they refuse to wear masks.

Regal and its competitors, however, make most of their money on concessions. But is it a good idea to be munching on popcorn — and removing one’s mask while doing so — during a movie?

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