Look at what’s happening in churches, which are also indoor spaces where people sit in rows for long periods of time; many have become viral hotspots, with one California megachurch linked to infecting 70 different people with COVID-19. The outbreak in the Navajo Nation, now the third-worst in the country behind New York and New Jersey, has also been linked back to a single church. Even practicing social distancing measures such as operating at half capacity or with staggered seating — ideas I’d once ignorantly touted before the outbreak got bad — is foolish. A choir practice in Washington state in early March, for example, resulted in two people dying from COVID-19 and dozens of others catching the disease, despite the group’s conscious efforts to avoid direct physical contact with each other.
Sadly, it’s because of their outsized potential to be coronavirus hotbeds that movie theaters are hurting right now and also why reopening is so tantalizing. AMC, the largest movie theater chain in the world, is $4.9 billion in debt, Vanity Fair reports (China’s Dalian Wanda Group, which owns AMC, has called rampant speculation that the theater might file for bankruptcy “pure rumors”). Cinemark, which owns 554 theaters, is also in trouble. Particularly as film studios increasingly explore direct-to-customer releases as a means of making up revenue during the outbreak, multiplexes are facing the very real threat of being rendered obsolete by the time the country fully reopens. But even if upper management might feel an urgency to reopen movie theater doors, it is their workers — who, at an AMC, make between $8.10 and $16.75 per hour — that would unfairly bear the burden of risking their lives for the sake of, what? Allowing audiences to watch Trolls World Tour on the big screen? It isn’t worth it.