Disinfecting Movie Theaters Between Screenings Is Now Optional

Movie theaters are slowly reopening after being shut down due to the coronavirus, and everyone in the industry seems to be holding their breath, wondering when and if things will bounce back to normal. With the vaccine rollout continuing, there's real hope that returning to the movies will be a safe experience. However, a recent change might give some folks pause. The National Association of Theatre Owners recently updated its CinemaSafe guidelines, telling exhibitors they no longer need to disinfect movie theaters between each screening. But don't freak out just yet.

Up until now, theaters that were open were mandated to disinfect in between screenings. But that's no longer a requirement. NATO, the National Association of Theater Owners, has updated its guidelines so that disinfecting should be "consistent with existing CDC, state or local guidelines." Those guidelines currently say that theaters should be cleaned – not disinfected – once a day.

"High-touch surfaces should be cleaned and/or disinfected consistent with existing CDC, state or local guidelines. If disinfectant is required, consider using only EPA-registered disinfectants and follow the manufacturer's instructions (e.g., safety requirements, protective equipment, contact time). Examples of high-touch surfaces are countertops, doorknobs, faucets, etc. These surfaces should be wiped down at frequent intervals during operating hours," state the current guidelines, which continue: "Auditoriums should be cleaned and or disinfected consistent with existing CDC, state or local guidelines. Seat maps of patrons can be used to help target this activity...Theatres that have been closed should be thoroughly cleaned and/or disinfected consistent with existing CDC, state or local guidelines prior to reopening to the public. If a theatre has had a prolonged shutdown, hot and cold-water fixtures should be flushed per CDC guidelines to ensure water systems are safe to use."

Now, this might immediately concern some folks, and that's understandable – we're still in the midst of this pandemic, and while hope is in sight, we're not completely out of the woods just yet. As such, there's nothing wrong with an abundance of caution. However, it's worth noting that there has yet to be a single COVID-19 infection tied to a movie theater. And if that doesn't give you peace of mind, Variety reports that even though the guidelines have changed, most theaters are sticking with the "disinfect after each screening" plan anyway.

"We're still spraying between shows," said Jeff Logan, president and CEO of Logan Luxury Theaters Corp. in South Dakota. "We've got to maintain public confidence." Joe Paletta, president of Spotlight Theatres in Georgia, added: "We're continuing until we get a little more clear consensus out there. We'll look at our markets and see what the customer feels comfortable with." Landmark also said they're going to continue to disinfect in between screenings. In short, there's no reason to panic, and hopefully, we're approaching a time period where we won't have to worry about this at all. Hopefully.