New Jersey movie theaters can open this Friday, September 4, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday, the latest upbeat news for the battered exhibition business after California last week set parameters for reopening that would allow locations in San Francisco and other counties to open.
Murphy said attendance at theaters will be capped at the lesser of either 25% of capacity or an audience of 150 per screen.
The executive reopening order — unveiled during a regular COVID-19 briefing — includes all indoor performing venues, along with indoor dining capped at 25% capacity with social distancing.
The order means New Yorkers can easily pop across state lines to adjacent New Jersey see a film and may have to do so as there’s still no word from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on a timeline for reopening New York’s theaters. Exhibitors are becoming increasingly indignant at the ongoing, financially crippling shutdown since March, while other venues like bowling alleys, gyms and malls have been allowed to reopen across the state.
In his own briefing on Monday, Cuomo acknowledged that restaurant-goers in New York City — the only region of the state that still prohibits indoor dining — may now seek out NJ establishments. “I understand that that means people can go through the tunnel or go over the George Washington Bridge and go to a restaurant in New Jersey where they can’t do that in New York City,” Cuomo said.
The New Jersey news comes two weeks after theater owners there lost a legal bid to force the governor to open theaters. A federal judge August 18 upheld Murphy’s closure of movie theaters in the state, dismissing a motion for an injunction by the National Association of Theatre Owners and five cinema chains that would have allowed them to open their doors. Theaters had tried to make a case for discrimination since New Jersey allowed churches to open but not movie theaters.
The capacity limit for indoor gatherings and celebrations like weddings, funerals and political activities is also capped at the lesser of 25% of capacity or 150 individuals, an increase from a cap of 100.
Murphy said groups that purchase tickets together at theaters may sit together but all others must remain at least six feet apart and everyone must wear masks in theaters “unless you’re pulling it aside to put down a handful of popcorn.”
As he loosened restrictions, he warned the people of New Jersey not to let their guard down. “This is a virus of opportunity. There is no room for error. Let’s enjoy eating indoors again or going to a movie with our friends … safely and responsibly.”