After one year of no movies in one of the biggest movie markets in the world, movie theaters in New York City will be allowed to reopen on March 5, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in a press conference on Monday.
Theaters must operate at 25 percent capacity with a maximum of 50 people per screening with socially distanced seating. They are also required to implement enhanced air filtration systems and follow strict sanitation protocols. Moviegoers will be required to wear masks. Whether concession stalls will be open is not yet known.
As the national death toll of COVID-19 reached half a million on Monday, in New York City the infection rate is lower than it has been in the past three weeks. Political leaders around the world have had to carefully balance an unprecedented public health emergency with keeping their economies and constituents’ livelihoods stable.
“From day one, we have said that our COVID recovery is not a choice between public health and the economy – it has to be both – and in New York, we’re demonstrating how to do that safely and smartly,” Cuomo said.
Theaters in the rest of New York state were allowed to reopen in October, but not in the state’s most populous city, out of concerns over the rapid indoor spread of the virus. The decision to reopen comes as indoor dining in restaurants resumed last week, with announcements to reopen pool and billiards halls and bowling alleys expected next week.
The move was welcomed by an industry devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Movie theaters were forced to shut their doors in March last year and have since struggled to stay financially afloat. AMC, one of the largest theater chains in the country that was close to declaring bankruptcy, announced that they will open all 13 of their locations in New York City on March 5.
“[This] is another important step towards restoring the health of the movie theatre industry and of our company,” said AMC CEO Adam Aron in a statement. For smaller, independent theaters in the city, reopening is even more vital to staying alive, though many may have suffered too many losses to resume operations at such a limited capacity.
Employees at movie theaters, however, are not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. While the opening of cinemas is a good sign for the economic recovery of the city, concerns remain for the safety of the larger public.
No one even knows for sure if people will actually go to the movies when theaters reopen.
So far, the response among moviegoers is mixed, with much of Cuomo’s Twitter audience annoyed by the inconsistency of the government’s overall pandemic response.
“So my son can go to the diner, go bowling, go to the movies, go to an indoor arcade, get married and have a 150-person reception. But not go to high school,” said Twitter user Jennifer Vann.
“Why don’t you get us all vaccinated first… this is ridiculous,” said another user.
Even avid movie patrons, such as Andrew Housman, 25, who averaged almost one movie per week before the pandemic, are hesitant about the safety of the move.
“Some movies just have to be watched on the big screen to do justice to them. I would really love to be in a movie theater again where I can fully immerse myself in the picture,” he said. “But do I trust that people will not secretly take off their masks in the dark? If concessions are allowed and people are munching on popcorn, there’s no point to the mask rule anyway. Even though it breaks my heart, I don’t think I will go watch a movie until I get a vaccine.”