L.A. Movie Theaters Can Reopen Next Week at 25% Capacity

Movie theaters in Los Angeles will be able to reopen early next week, public health officials said Thursday. The announcement punctuates nearly a year without cinemas in the film capital of the world, and is welcome news to the exhibition industry, which has struggled over the past twelve months since COVID-19 upended daily life.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced Thursday that theaters will be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity sometime between Monday and Wednesday of next week.

Last week, movie theaters in New York City were allowed to reopen at reduced capacity.

In Los Angeles, the county was waiting for the state to distribute two million vaccine doses to underserved populations, a key trigger in the state’s reopening framework. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that California would hit the vaccine milestone on Friday, meaning that counties could move to the “red tier” if they had less than 10 new cases a day per 100,000 people.

Because of short notice, most theaters won’t be able to go back to business right away. The major theater circuits believe their venues won’t be operational until March 19, because they need more time to hire back staff.

When they do get the green light, multiplexes in the country’s most populous county will be able to operate at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is less. Gyms and indoor dining, at limited capacity, will also be included as California moves into the red tier. Theaters say that operating at limited capacity makes it hard to turn a profit.

With more urban centers such as Los Angeles and New York City loosening restrictions on movie theaters, studios may feel more emboldened to release tentpole films. After COVID-19 struck, many studios delayed their biggest releases. That meant that when cinemas were able to reopen they often had little to play.

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