ANAHEIM (CBSLA) – While two major chains reopened movie theaters in Orange County Friday, it’s unclear whether moviegoers will be embrace the big screen for the first time in over six months.
Thanks to its low coronavirus numbers, O.C. was upgraded from California’s purple to red tier on Tuesday, the only county in the Southland to be moved into the red. That meant that movie theaters, restaurants and places of worship can begin operating indoors with a capacity of 25% or 100 people, whichever is smaller.
In response, Regal Cinemas rushed to reopen almost immediately Tuesday, while AMC and Cinemark followed suit on Friday.
Pam Kelley, who was celebrating her birthday in Anaheim, told CBSLA both she and her family are not ready to go back just yet.
“I don’t know, not yet, no movie yet,” Kelley said.
“I do think it’s a little too soon for movies to be opening,” her family member Brandon Kelley added. “I mean, we still can’t go to Disneyland, but we can go to movies? Come on.”
Theater chains have increased cleaning and sanitizing protocols in an effort to convince moviegoers it’s safe to return.
John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, told CBSLA in an interview last week that his organization has recommended voluntary protocols for its member theater chains. Along with cashless transactions and mask requirements, they involve 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.
Michael Jackson of Anaheim said that he’s glad he has the option to return to theaters.
“It’s nice maybe to take your family and your kids, because we’re so confined in the house all the time,” Jackson said.
However, he’s worried that what made going to movies so fun — having that communal experience — will be gone now.
“I’m so used to going to the theaters and being able to sit right next to somebody and laugh together, with the movie” Jackson said. “But now everybody has got to be so distant, it’s weird.”
San Diego is the only other county in Southern California whose theaters have reopened. It was moved into the red tier last week.
Los Angeles County, meanwhile, 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.
The vast majority of California movie theaters have been closed since mid-March.
Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” whose release was put off several times, was the first major tentpole to hit U.S. theaters after the reopening. 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.