LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – San Diego County became the first in Southern California to reopen its theaters ahead of Labor Day Weekend as Hollywood hopes the Christopher Nolan blockbuster “Tenet” can help salvage a summer box office which was brought to a halt by the coronavirus pandemic.
San Diego’s theater reopenings were made possible by California’s new four-tiered coronavirus assessment system, unveiled Aug. 28, which determines the process by which each county can reopen businesses and schools.
The color-coded system ranges from yellow (minimal), orange (moderate), red (substantial) and purple (widespread).
All of Southern California was placed under the purple designation except for San Diego, which was assigned red. The red designation allows San Diego to reopen its movie theaters at no more than 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, told CBSLA Wednesday morning that his organization has recommended voluntary protocols for its member theater chains to ensure that customers and employees feel safe.
One of those involves ensuring that when people buy tickets ahead of a screening, they’re automatically social distanced from other moviegoers.
“Our algorithms automatically block the seats around your group, so that you can sit with your family, but then there’s automatic social distancing between you and the next group,” Fithian said.
Other safety guidelines include requiring all customers and employees to wear masks at all times. Furthermore, employees must undergo temperature screenings, although customers are not required to.
“We believe, as we’ve seen in other parts of the world that have already opened the movie (Tenet), that patrons will come back to the cinemas if they see two things,” Fithian said. “If they see good movies, new movies being advertised. And secondly if they know and hear about our safety protocols.”
Los Angeles County isn’t slated to be downgraded from purple to red any time soon. To be downgraded from the purple tier, a county must have less than 7 new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 population, and have a positivity rate of less than 8%. It must maintain those levels for 14 straight days.
Currently, L.A. County has 13.1 cases per 100,000, nearly double the threshold, and a positivity rate of 5%.
A vast majority of California movie theaters have been closed since mid-March. Gov. Gavin Newsom initially gave permission for production in California to resume and movie theaters to reopen on June 12, but at the discretion of each county.
L.A. County did not give its theaters the green light to reopen at the time, but it did not matter, because the coronavirus case spike forced Newsom to reverse course. On July 1, he ordered movie theaters in multiple counties, including L.A., to close again.
“Tenet,” whose release was put off several times, is the first major tentpole to hit U.S. theaters. Disney’s “Mulan” was supposed to come out in theaters in March. After several delays, Disney decided to pull the plug on a theatrical release and put the film out to its streaming platform Disney Plus on Sept. 4 at a price point of $30.