Movie Theaters Are Reopening but Experts Say There Is "No Scenario" in Which They Are Safe

After months of being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, movie theaters across the country have begun reopening. AMC Theatres announced last week that some of its theaters will be reopening on August 20th while Alamo Drafthouse is set to reopen select locations on August 26th and other theater chains are slowly turning the lights on again as well. However, while some major films -- including Christopher Nolan's Tenet -- are set to open in the coming weeks and theaters are taking safety precautions including social distancing measures and requiring that guests wear masks, questions remain regarding how safe it really is to head back to the movies. According to one expert the answer is not safe at all.

Speaking with AV Club, Dr. Anne W. Rimoin, professor epidemiology and director of Center for Global And Immigrant Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, there is "no scenario" in which going to the movies right now is safe, unless you rented out the entire theater.

"Short of renting out an entire theater, which is obviously not an option for most of us, there is no scenario in which going to a movie theater is a good idea," Dr. Rimoin said.

Dr. Rimoin further explained that there are no zero-risk scenarios overall, but movie theaters combine all of the problem elements people have been advised against.

"I mean, the people need to realize is that there really is no zero-risk scenario during this COVID pandemic," she said. "We're advising people to not interact with others beyond their immediate family or home bubbles unless absolutely necessary, to limit gatherings of more than 10 people in any given space, and to avoid indoor areas. And you should definitely not be in an indoor area where you'd be taking your mask off, not even for eating. Movie theaters have all of that."

Epidemiologist Dr. Abdul El-Sayed agreed.

"I’m a huge fan of movies. I really enjoy them," he said. "They're a great way to have some fun and escape from the world—which we need, especially right now. But going to see a movie in an indoor movie theater, it’s just about the last thing I would do right now."

As for the mask requirement many theaters have as part of their safety plan Dr. Rimoin noted that people are going to be taking them off to eat concessions, something that makes the situation a bit worse.

"And if they're selling concessions, people are gonna be taking off their masks and eating, and that's tantamount to eating in a restaurant in a closed space -- even worse, because you're basically in a closed box. There aren’t even windows, there’s no ventilation. Right now you want to be thinking about 'time, space, people, place': You want to think the about the amount of time you’re spending, how socially distant you can be, who you will be around, and what the ventilation is like. And it’s not just one of those boxes you should check; you need to be checking all of them."

However, not all "going to the movies" scenarios are completely problematic. While staying at home is the safest bet, Dr. Rimoin noted that drive-in theaters have been "innovative".

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"What I do think is really innovative and exciting is drive-in theaters are springing up all over the place, and outdoor screenings are happening."

Will you be headed back to theaters as they begin to reopen? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.