Movie theaters across the country have begun to open their doors, and, with several, actually new, movies soon to actually hit the theaters for the first time that aren’t old reruns of classics, pandemic and infectious diseases experts are urging potential movie-goers to park their keisters at home. That’s right: even though Russell Crowe’s latest film, Unhinged, hits theaters on Friday, and the film will be opening in 44 states. But not only that, Dev Patel’s The Personal History of David Copperfield and the delayed like a million times New Mutants will also hit theaters next week. Despite all that temptation, experts are begging people not to go to movie theaters. But why? Two pandemic experts spoke to A.V. Club reporter and editor-in-chief Patrick Gomez to explain why.
It Defies All COVID-19 Advice
The prospect of sitting in a dark, poorly circulated and ventilated movie theater with dozens of strangers, while laughing, screaming, and yelling basically runs counter to all COVID-19 medical advice that the public has been given so far.
“We’re advising people to not interact with others beyond their immediate family or home bubble unless absolutely necessary, to limit gatherings of more than 10 people in any given space, and to avoid indoor areas. And you should definitely not be in an indoor area where you’d be taking your mask off, not even for eating. Movie theaters have all of that,” Dr. Anne W. Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology and director for the Center for Global and Immigrant Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, said. It’s like a restaurant on steroids. Sitting for hours among strangers — barring the ability to rent out an entire movie theater for you and 9 of your family members who have been in your COVID bubble — in the dark while laughing, respirating, spreading potential COVID droplets into the air, eating snacks, and for a non-necessary reason is the anti-COVID advice.
“From what we understand, the virus is transmitted through aerosolized droplets that come out of our mouths, oftentimes when we talk or when we laugh or when we sing… being in a room for two hours with a bunch of folks… where air is not being circulated in an efficient way, and where you don’t know who has been in there before you… I just don’t think it’s worth it,” says Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, an epidemiologist, physician, former city health commissioner, and podcast host.
There Could Actually Be Viral Loads On Seating
Most COVID-19 data shows that while it’s really rare, and hard, for COVID-19 to be passed on surfaces — like through mail, groceries, packages, or the like — it’s certainly not impossible. And movie theaters are at a more significant risk of the virus being passed through surfaces due to the length of time someone who potentially has COVID-19 would spend sitting on a movie theater chair. It’s not like a grocery store when someone drops off the fruit and walks away; it’s a grocery store where someone holds on to, and laughs on, and breathes all over, the fruit for two hours. That’s a different risk calculus, and it’s probably not one worth making.
Mask-Wearing Is Impossible With Snacks and Drinks
Current guidelines from functionally all public health officials, government leaders, and local ordinances require mask-wearing indoors if you have to be indoors for any reason. Movie theaters, where you eat popcorn, drink soda, and have a generally snacky time, are not a place where you can wear a mask inside the whole time. Add that to all of the reasons above, and it’s a wonder why you’d pay for a movie right now when you can watch it at home, safely, without leaving your bubble.
There Are Movies at Home
Here are the facts: the movies that are coming out right now will be available on-demand much more quickly than the typical movie theatre to VOD release schedules of yesteryear. A few weeks ago, an overall 17-day-window deal where movies would only have to air in theatres for a little over two weeks, rather than 90 days, was inked, meaning that if you’re absolutely dying to see Unhinged, you probably won’t have to wait that long. So, just wait a few weeks, watch the movie in the safety of your living room, and don’t worry about exposing yourself, or potentially hundreds of other people, to a deadly virus. It seems like a simple calculus to us.
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