How movie theaters are working to keep customers safe


Danielle Pritchard

Movie theaters are open with strict social distance and health guidelines.

Paula Recio, Director of Marketing, Outreach & Engagement & Community Co-editor

As people begin to come out of their self or government-imposed hibernations, one of the last things on many people’s minds is going to a movie.  However, during these more than six months in quarantine, movie theaters have been working hard to implement enhanced safety measures in the hopes of luring back customers. Movie theater chains in the Chicagoland area, such as AMC Naperville, Cinemark at Seven Bridges and Hollywood Studios in Woodridge, have changed their safety protocols to adhere to the current pandemic situation. 

As is the case for all indoor spaces, masks are required at all times unless patrons are eating or drinking. To help enforce proper mask wearing, AMC has instituted its “AMC Safe & Clean Protocol,” which includes offering acceptable masks that give proper coverage to visitors without one for $1.  

The AMC Theaters website states that your mask must cover your nose and mouth and properly fit your face, as well as your chin.  Mask alternatives, such as neck gaiters, open-chin bandanas and masks with vents or exhalation valves, are not acceptable for use. 

Social distancing is required and well-enforced. Seats at each auditorium have been reduced by 40 percent capacity. When selecting seats, chairs are already marked as unavailable to assist in maintaining proper social distancing. Moviegoers who feel uncomfortable with their seating are allowed to move around or get a refund for their ticket. 

Michelle, a manager at Cinemark at Seven Bridges who did not wish to provide her last name, confirmed that attendance has been incredibly low when compared to movie attendance before the pandemic forced theaters to close.

¨Before COVID, we would get about 4,000-5,000 people during the day,”  she said. “Now, we are getting about 200 people in the day.”

In addition to routinely cleaning and disinfecting common areas and commonly touched surfaces, the auditoriums themselves are required to be cleaned before each show with electrostatic disinfectant sprayers, which according to the “AMC Safe & Clean Protocol” are able to reach every single area of the auditorium. 

“This equipment maximizes surface coverage by using negatively charged ions so that the disinfectant particles wrap around and cling to positively charged surfaces,¨ AMC Theaters’ website states. 

The air filter system has been upgraded to the Minimum Efficiency Recording Value 13 filter, or MERV 13. The carpet floors are vacuumed nightly with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA). HEPA filters are proven to trap 99.97 percent of airborne particles. New York Times  journalist Tim Heffernan reported that “the HEPA filter seems to be the best current option to eliminate COVID-19. The virus that causes COVID-19 is approximately 0.125 micron (125 nanometers) in diameter.” 

Even though the HEPA filters are not proven to completely eliminate COVID-19, they are very efficient for capturing micro particles in the same category.“It falls squarely within the particle-size range that HEPA filters capture with extraordinary efficiency: 0.01 micron (10 nanometers) and above,” Heffernan said. 

Additional safety measures include disinfectant wipes around every corner, which customers can take to further disinfect chairs, doors, credit cards, or anything that gets touched. Hand sanitizers are placed at the entrance and exit of every auditorium and even next to the cashiers. 

Due to the altered safety measures in movie theaters’ deep cleaning procedures, some forms of entertainment are once again available during these unprecedented times. Having incorporated the use of the MERV 13 filters and even the HEPA vacuums which keep the spaces clear from bacteria, the true enforcement of proper mask wearing, constant disinfecting and social distancing by the decreased seating for each auditorium may make moviegoers feel safer when enjoying their favorite film.