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Movie theaters could reopen - with distancing caveats - in phase 1 of President’s restart plan

By Benjamin Bullard
An empty movie theater awaits guests

Nothing’s set in stone yet, but there’s at least a flicker of hope for theater owners and movie fans nationwide who’ve been fidgeting at home waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to pass.

The White House revealed Thursday that theaters are included among the businesses that President Donald Trump is eyeing for the first phase of his proposed three-phase "Opening Up America Again” plan, which aims to forge a transition between the current widespread shutdown and a return to something that resembles normal, pre-pandemic life.

Trump revealed his administration’s priority on getting people back to the movies Thursday in a call to state governors, according to multiple industry reports. The plan he outlined and later shared online puts forth a timed, localized, three-step approach to meeting public health goals that could clear theaters and other businesses for a soft restart.

If a locality shows downward trends in symptoms and cases related to the coronavirus, and its hospitals can "treat all patients without crisis care" and put a "robust testing program" into place, then some businesses can start to reopen again. Movie theaters fall in the first part of the plan, along with other “large venues” like sports arenas, restaurants, and houses of worship, as long as they "can operate under strict physical distancing protocols."

Schools could reopen and nonessential travel could begin as part of the second phase, while “medically vulnerable people could resume public interactions” in the final phase, according to Reuters. But even if states do give the individual all-clear for the lights to dim and the projectors to once again fire up, moviegoers would be compelled, at least as part of the guidelines put forth by the White House, to continue adhering to current social distancing guidelines.

The president’s plan, reports Deadline, is merely a roadmap that state governors can elect to follow at their discretion, and doesn’t carry the force of policy — let alone of law. But after weeks of deferred movie releases and production delays, it could serve as a potential light at the end of a long, pandemic-mitigating tunnel.

Every major movie chain has gone dark to give the pandemic a wide berth, including full nationwide closures of theaters operated by AMC, Regal, and Cinemark, the latter of which just revealed a tentative goal of reopening for movie-starved guests by July 1. Going by the White House guidelines, “states or regions [would need to] meet a set of criteria that includes a downward trajectory of [coronavirus] cases within a 14-day period, or of positive tests as a percent of total tests within that time frame,” Deadline notes — while also noting that the White House did not put forward a firm timeline for when any of this could happen.

Still, we're hopeful about the mere talk of movie screens lighting up after weeks of downtime — even if it means we’ll all be sitting six feet apart for a while.