White House Includes Movie Theaters in Proposed Reopening Plan

Courtesy of Peter McClintock
The AMC Empire and Regal E-Walk in New York City's Times Square

Cinemas still might have to deploy "moderate physical distancing protocols" for a certain length of time.

The White House is recommending that movie theaters be allowed to reopen in earnest once the coronavirus pandemic begins to subside, albeit with certain moderate social distancing protocols.

Cinemas are specifically mentioned in proposed guidelines laid out by President Donald Trump, who on Thursday briefed the country's governors on the reopening treatise, titled "Opening Up America Again."

States must satisfy a list of criteria in terms of reducing the number of COVID-19 cases before people can begin to return to work in certain locales and businesses can flip the lights on.

Trump is hopeful that some areas will be out of danger by May 1, but the White House plan doesn't lay out an official timeline.

Under the guidelines, "large venues" — a grouping that includes theaters, sports venues, sit-down dining and places of worship — should be allowed to reopen during "Phase Two" with "moderate physical distancing protocols." Schools and elective surgeries also are part of Phase Two.

Large venues also are mentioned in "Phase One," with the provision that such establishments enforce strict social distancing protocols, making it unlikely that theaters would opt to reopen en masse until Phase Two. During Phase One, for example, schools are advised to remain closed, while gatherings of 10 or more people are discouraged.

Hollywood is hopeful that many theaters will begin to turn on the lights by the end of June. The National Association of Theatre Owners didn't immediately comment on the White House plan.

Ultimately, it will be up to state and local authorities whether to allow certain public-facing businesses, including theaters, to reopen and under what terms.

"Every state is very different," Trump said at a Thursday press conference unveiling the proposal, explaining that certain states might remain closed longer than others.

The pandemic has brought the movie business to a halt. The vast majority of cinemas have been closed since March 20, while any number of productions have shut down.

Initially, theater circuits hoped to stave off closures by slashing capacity by as much as 50 percent and introducing "buffer" seating. Some of those tactics is likely to be deployed during Phase Two. The Phase Three guidelines call for "limited" physical distancing measures.

At Thursday's briefing, the White House team also was asked whether, during Phase Three of the proposed plan, arenas would be reopened with fans. "It is conceivable that we will be able to do that," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.