It’s been nearly half a year since movie fans have had an actual theater experience, but that hiatus will come to an end today.
The Maryland governor’s announcement earlier this week paved the road for the reopening of movie theaters and other entertainment venues, just in time for films like “Tenet,” “Unhinged” and “The New Mutants.”
However, any reopening would come with the possibility of community spread of COVID-19, regardless of what safety measures might be put in place, according to at least one health official. The Maryland health department on Thursday reported cases in Southern Maryland have totaled 4,349 since the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March, and 175 people have died in the three counties from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
While some theaters in the region have yet to announce whether they will reopen, RC Lexington Exchange Movies 12 in California posted on its website that it is set to light up its screens beginning Friday, Sept. 4.
Scott R. Cohen, president of the RC Theatres, said Wednesday morning the theater in St. Mary’s is set to open Friday, “pending the local county [officials] giving us permission.” He’s rehired staff for the theater, and would follow guidelines set out by local and state officials as well as safety recommendations from a national program known as Cinema Safe, he said.
Other theaters in the region, including AMC St. Charles Town Center 9, Xscape Theatres Brandywine 14, AMC Lexington Park 6 and Flagship Cinemas in Prince Frederick, had not listed any updates as of Wednesday this week.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Chris Kaselemis, St. Mary’s economic development director, said of the coming reopenings. “There are obviously quality-of-life aspects for St. Mary’s County. It’s important they open.”
Kaselemis said there is likely “pent-up demand” for people to return to social activities like going to the movies or seeing concerts. And while many of the large fall events in the region have already been canceled, he said, “There could be new things pop up.”
Charles County government announced through a press release on Wednesday that it would follow the state’s phased guidelines of Stage Three, including allowing theaters to reopen.
Similarly, “St. Mary’s County is going to mirror what the governor has done,” a spokesperson for that county’s government said Wednesday.
And while entertainment venues in Calvert will likely have the go ahead to open, that county’s health officer advised restraint among residents.
“I’m not going to independently override the governor’s decision,” Dr. Laurence Polsky, Calvert’s health officer, said.
“I do disagree with that decision,” to open theaters, even at 50% capacity, he said, adding that it comes not long before the start of flu season, and just as counties struggle with finding safe ways to bring students back into school buildings.
“I am going to encourage people to use good judgement and avoid crowded places like movie theaters,” the health officer said.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Tuesday afternoon that beginning this Friday, Sept. 4, at 5 p.m. the state would move into its third recovery stage. That includes allowing movie theaters to open at 50% capacity (or 100 people per auditorium, whichever is less), and increasing allowed capacity from 50% to 75% at retail establishments and religious buildings. In addition, outdoor venues where live performances occur or motion pictures are shown outdoors may open to the public at 50% capacity or 250 people, whichever is less, with appropriate health and safety protocols in place.
Stage Three will be implemented in multiple phases based on how virus data trends, and will allow for “a flexible, community-based approach that empowers individual jurisdictions to make decisions regarding the timing of reopenings,” according to a release from the governor’s office.
Jeff Murray, Calvert Marine Museum director, said Wednesday that the new guidance probably won’t have any immediate impact on the museum in Solomons, which is known in part for its large outdoor concerts and intimate indoor shows. The summer and fall concert seasons had already been canceled, Murray said, and the museum’s indoor concert space does not lend itself to social distancing.
“We’re going to bring those concerts back as soon as we can,” he said, adding that he hopes to be able to offer the large outdoor concerts again starting next May.
The museum itself is open, although visitors are asked to get tickets online for a specific two-hour period on a given day. Murray said museum staff sanitize the museum between the two-hour shifts, which currently allow for up to 75 people at a time indoors.
The governor also announced a collaboration with Apple and Google in which Maryland would become one of the first states to deploy a new exposure notification tool to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Exposure Notifications Express is designed to help public health officials more quickly and easily provide notifications for their residents about potential COVID-19 exposure and guide them on recommended actions, according to the governor’s release, which also said the technology will be optional for users.
“As we move into this third and final stage of our recovery, I want to sincerely thank our doctors, nurses, and public health officials, our small business community, and, most importantly, the people of Maryland who have pulled together over the last five months to respond to this unprecedented challenge with incredible courage and perseverance,” Hogan said.
The governor announced that the State Board of Elections has mailed ballot applications to all Maryland voters and encouraged voters to take advantage of using the absentee ballots or early voting.
Visit governor.maryland.gov/recovery for more information about the state’s Roadmap to Recovery plans.