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Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors chair Kathryn Barger on Wednesday delivered “sobering” statistics that reveal how devastating the COVID-19 pandemic has been on entertainment industry professionals.
“Many of” Hollywood’s 890,000 film and entertainment employees are not working due to widespread shutdowns aimed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, a figure she attributed to Universal’s Donna Langley as revealed Tuesday during the second meeting of the Economic Resiliency Task Force. That group, led by Barger, was created out of a partnership with vice chair Supervisor Hilda Solis, and their peers on the Board of Supervisors, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Sheila Kuehl and Janice Hahn.
“Anyone listening to yesterday’s meeting heard loud and clear that employees and businesses are suffering,” said Barger, referencing other data to come from the meeting, including that as many as one million unemployment claims have been filed in the county alone, while as many as 80 percent of restaurant employees are out of work. California has reported a record 4.6 million unemployment claims filed since March 12, levels not seen since the Great Depression. Because of the decimated economy and the pandemic’s impact on small businesses — some of which Barger said may not even be able to recover — there is a sense of urgency to speed up reopening efforts.
She was quick to add, however, that it must be done safely. “Public health guidance must be at the front of what we do,” said Barger. “Time is of the essence, and it has to be done responsibly.”
At the meeting, Barger announced a July 4 target date for reopening retail, restaurants and malls. On Wednesday, she added “recreation” to that list, while revealing that some sectors may be able to open before the July 4 date if plans are submitted and approved. The Task Force includes 13 leaders representing business, labor, infrastructure, food industry, arts and culture, digital media, nonprofit, sports and faith-based and education sectors, with each offering input and plans on how to best reopen. Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, represents the film and digital media side, while Casey Wasserman represents sports and entertainment.
The Hollywood Reporter reached out to Barger’s office for clarification on where movie theaters fall in the county’s reopening plans. Her spokesperson, assistant chief deputy and communications director Michelle Vega, said guidance on movie theaters will come from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has included the industry in phase three of the state’s reopening plan alongside gyms and hair and nail salons.
“It is definitely on the county’s radar to open movie theaters,” Vega added. “So much is dependent upon the plans that the task force members submit on how their industries can reopen.”
The current hope is that the vast majority of theaters in the U.S. will be reopened in time for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which is set to launch July 17, followed a week later by Disney’s Mulan on July 24. Los Angeles and New York City — the country’s two largest moviegoing markets in terms of revenue, respectively — are crucial to those plans, particularly in the case of Tenet, since it is an adult-skewing property.
Cinemas, like other public-facing businesses, are prepared to impose social-distancing measures, including reduced seating, as mandated by local health authorities. A smattering of theaters have reopened in some states where shelter-in-place orders have been eased, but most chains are staying shuttered for the time being.
Barger revealed the sobering statistics during the county’s daily coronavirus press briefing, during which Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer reported an additional 57 deaths in the past 24 hours for a county-wide total of 1,970 to date. There were also 1,324 newly diagnosed cases, bringing the total number of county residents who have received a positive diagnosis to 40,857 thus far. Another person experiencing homelessness was among the 57 deaths, bringing the total figure to seven. There are 1,531 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19-related illness, with 28 percent receiving treatment in ICU and 19 percent of those on ventilators. Those figures represent “good news,” as officials continue to see slight decreases in hospital rates.
May 20, 2020, 9:02 p.m.: Updated to include a clarification from Kathryn Barger’s spokesperson that it was Universal’s Donna Langley that said “many of the 890,000” film and entertainment staffers are out of work due to the pandemic.
Additional reporting by Pamela McClintock
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