California to allow movie theaters to reopen in most counties

The Vista Theatre on Sunset Drive in Los Angeles
The Vista Theatre on Sunset Drive in Los Angeles posted the message, “To be Continued...” on its marquee in April during the coronavirus crisis.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
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California counties that have been allowed to accelerate their reopening of their economy, including Los Angeles County, could decide to reopen movie theaters as early as Friday, according to new state guidelines released Monday.

Each local health officer has the authority to decide whether to move forward with relaxing restrictions on reopening theaters. While the state provides guidance on how businesses can reopen, counties decide when they occur.

The new rules would limit the number of guests in a movie theater to 25% of theater capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower.


Also, theaters would need to implement a reservation system to limit the number of attendees entering the theater at a time when possible. “Designate arrival times as part of reservations, if possible so that customers arrive at and enter the theater in staggered groups,” the state’s rules say.

To keep guests six feet away from others, theaters are to close or otherwise remove seats from use, which may require seating every other row or blocking off seats in a checkerboard style, in which no one is sitting directly behind other patrons.

The rules would ask patrons to wear face coverings when not eating or drinking. Staff would need to be available to help usher people before the show begins and at its conclusion to reduce crowding when entering or exiting.


The guidelines also suggest using disposable or washable seat covers in theaters, “particularly on porous surfaces that are difficult to properly clean. Discard and replace seat covers between each use,” the guidelines say.

Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura are among 51 California counties that will be given the option by the state to allow movie theaters to reopen.

All but seven of California’s 58 counties have filed attestation paperwork to reopen their economies at an accelerated pace. Six of the counties that have not done so are in the San Francisco Bay Area — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara — and the seventh is Imperial County east of San Diego, which is facing a bad outbreak.


The rules would also allow other family entertainment center operators, such as bowling alleys, miniature golf, batting cages and arcades to reopen.

Last week, state officials released suggested industry guidance for fitness facilities that could allow gyms to open up in much of California as early as this Friday.

Suggested rules include spacing equipment at least six feet apart, with greater distance for treadmills and other high-exertion aerobic fitness equipment, considering suspending childcare service and food service, and limiting capacity by enacting a reservation system.

Under the guidelines, personal trainers must use face coverings and avoid close contact, and patrons are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering too. Group exercise classes would need to be limited to keep six feet of distance between people, and the guidelines suggest moving the classes outdoors or larger spaces such as a full-sized basketball court.

Saunas, steam rooms and hot tubs should remain closed, the guidance says.

Lin reported from San Francisco, Willon from Sacramento.