One might say coronavirus had a good day Wednesday when Cinemark Holdings, the company that owns one of North America’s larger movie theater chains, revealed it plans to reopen cinemas around the country between June and July—all while letting customers without masks sit among those who might actually believe in proper safety measures.
The news came during a call between Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi and Wall Street analysts about the company’s four-phased opening rollout.
“We have been intensely focused in developing enhanced health and safety protocols, understanding that these factors will weigh heavily on the confidence and peace of mind of our employees, guests, and community as we reopen our theaters,” Zoradi said in the livestreamed event. “[Cinemark will be] requiring all employees to wear face masks and encouraging guests to do the same.”
Since the event Cinemark spokespeople clarified that this is in regards to communities whose local governments do not have a masks-on mandate like New York City. However, this means that if you live in a state where masks are not required to go outside—such as Cinemark’s native home in Texas—that you can watch a movie in the next few months coughing on those who are wearing masks, even if Cinemark “encourages” you to cover your face.
This is in direct contradiction of the health guidelines suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which highlight the use of masks is intended to curb a person’s ability to potentially spread COVID-19 through cough droplets, as opposed to protect you from breathing them in.
“We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (‘asymptomatic’) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (‘pre-symptomatic’) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms,” the CDC recently wrote in an update on their website. “This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
Considering that the CDC now suggests most COVID-19 transmissions occur via person-to-person droplets as opposed to surface-to-person transmissions, this would most assuredly apply to movie theaters.
Of course Cinemark making masks optional plays into the precarious situation both theaters and American culture currently stands in. While the company is allowed to make its own guidelines, the continued politicization of public health creates an uncomfortable situation where proper safety measures are diluted while movie theaters begin reopening.
With the last major theatrical release occurring last March, movie exhibitors remain hopeful that Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet maintains its July 17 release date and kicks off a belated summer moviegoing season. Notably, its recent (and impressive) trailer simply said “Coming to Theaters” without a date.
Nolan is reportedly anxious to have the film open in cinemas as soon as possible to help revive the exhibition model he cherishes, but WB is likewise reported to be wary of opening it in July if more than 20 percent of global movie theaters remain closed. While plans like Cinemark suggest theaters could be roaring back to life by July 17, major markets may be closed. This includes Los Angeles county, which has a shelter-in-place order in effect until at least August. New York City, meanwhile, is set to begin phase one of reopening in the next week, but it remains unclear if the other biggest movie market in North America will actually have theaters open by July.
Plans like Cinemark are arguably what medical experts would warn against, because even if employees are wearing masks, they and other masked customers will be at risk from those who are not.
Currently, Cinemark is planning to begin opening theaters on June 19 with all theaters open by July 10.