AMC Theatres will open 450 of its U.S. locations on July 15, and the remaining 150 theaters on July 24. The plans from AMC, the country’s and world’s largest circuit, mirror those announced by rivals Cinemark and Regal, and puts a huge chunk of the country’s multiplexes on track to be open by the time Disney’s “Mulan” and Warner Bros.’ “Tenet” are released at the end of July.
AMC tapped Harvard public health expert Dr. Joseph Allen to develop the phased reopening plan, which will begin July 15 with a seating capacity of 30 percent. Traditional theaters will see every other row blocked off.
The caps will increase to 40 percent, then 50 percent. The chain hopes it will be able to move to 50-percent capacity by Labor Day and full, unrestricted capacity by Thanksgiving, Variety reported.
“We didn’t rush to reopen,” AMC CEO and President Adam Aron told Variety. “There were some jurisdictions in some states such as Georgia and Texas that allowed people to re-open theaters in mid-May. We opted to remain closed, so we could give the country time to get a better handle on coronavirus. We wanted to use this time to figure out how best to open and how to do so safely.”
Social distancing will be enforced through the use of directional signs and reminders. However, while employees will be required to wear masks, customers will not be unless mandated by state or local law, as is the case with Cinemark and Regal.
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“We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” Aron told Variety. “We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary. We think that the vast majority of AMC guests will be wearing masks. When I go to an AMC feature, I will certainly be wearing a mask and leading by example.”
There is growing evidence that mask-wearing is a powerful tool in curbing the spread of the virus, as evidenced by several published studies.
California on Thursday made mask-wearing in many public places mandatory statewide.
While AMC is touting its heightened cleaning practices, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said transmission from an infected person talking or breathing is the primary method of infection. Transmission from contaminated surfaces is not believed to be the primary way the virus spreads.
Cleaning procedures include routine disinfection of common areas and high-touch points throughout the day, and extra time between movies so that auditoriums can be cleaned. Technology includes electrostatic disinfectant sprayers, vacuums with HEPA filters, and upgrading HVAC filters to MERV 13 whenever possible.
Concessions stands will see simplified menus meant to ensure shorter lines and quicker service. Popcorn and fountain drink refills are temporarily canceled.
The reopening plan comes as exhibitors are under enormous pressure to reopen. AMC, for example, recently acknowledged in filings that it’s at the risk of bankruptcy after seeing its revenue disappear during the pandemic.
AMC hasn’t revealed which theaters will open when, which could speak to local concerns and complications of reworking details on rent and other financial matters.
Tom Brueggemann contributed reporting.