“It is too early to go to the movies,” say infectious disease experts

Movie theater owners may be eager to reopen their screens to the public, but health experts aren’t convinced it’s time to head back to theaters.

Coronavirus cases in the United States have not decreased. In fact, the country reported more new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday than any previous day. Almost half of these new cases come from Florida, Texas, and California, where the outbreaks appear to be expanding.

“What we are seeing now is that wave one is still going on,” said Los Angeles-based infectious disease specialist Dr. Ravina Kullar, an epidemiologist and spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “There has been no decline or a plateau and that’s a concern. I don’t see any change in a positive direction.”

While theaters have established guidelines for social distancing and increased sanitation, only a few places require customers to wear masks. Infectious disease specialists who spoke to CNBC stressed the importance of wearing face covers as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus, especially in indoor air-conditioned settings.

Most theaters seek to reopen in mid-July. But even studios seem to feel that theaters may not be prepared for large crowds. Warner Bros. “Tenet”, which was supposed to launch on July 17, was postponed until July 31 amid concerns that theaters are not ready to reopen in time. There have also been rumors that Disney’s “Mulan” could be pushed out of its July 24 release date.

“I would honestly say that I don’t feel comfortable going to the movies right now,” said Dr. Carlos Del Rio, an Atlanta-based infectious disease specialist. “I want to see the numbers drop, I want to see the cases drop. Right now, the only place I feel comfortable going to the movies is in my living room.”

Both Kullar and Del Rio expressed concern about the responsibility of other clients in the cinema. For the most part, the other clients in the theater will be strange and there is no way to determine if they have been judicious about the security measures or ignored them. There’s also no way theaters can enforce wearing masks when the lights go out and the movie begins.

“Not wearing a mask is like Russian roulette,” said Kullar.

Then there is the air conditioning. In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a research letter linking the spread of the coronavirus to air conditioners.

The main way the coronavirus is transmitted is through close person-to-person contact and the exchange of infected droplets. Forced air could increase the risk of transmission.

While some production studios have introduced new air filtration systems in a bid to curb the spread of the disease, no major movie theater has announced plans to invest in this technology.

“Right now it is too early to go to the movies,” said Kullar, noting that movie theaters are a much safer option for consumers.

Del Rio also recommended that consumers avoid closed spaces and large crowds.

“In the midst of a pandemic there are certain things you have to do and things you don’t have to do,” said Del Rio. “At some point you have to say, ‘doing this is too risky.'”