State orders to close movie theaters and live performances last March were sad but necessary as COVID rampaged through the Empire State, especially when we knew little about how the virus spread and lacked the tools to figure out who was infected.
But New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pledged to let science guide reopening, has offered little justification for why venues should remain closed, beyond saying "movie theaters are not that high on the list of essentials."
Are tattoo parlors, nail salons and bowling alleys really more essential than a two-hour mental and spiritual escape? Cuomo and his officials let tattooing, bowling and other indoor activities resume many weeks ago, based on the fact continued low virus transmission rates rendered conditions safe enough, provided capacity limits and masking requirements were in place.
Even with outbreaks in South Brooklyn and the mid-Hudson Valley, New York state's infection rate is the second lowest in the United States, behind Maine. Our testing capacity is more than double the Centers for Disease Control's recommended level.
Little evidence suggests movie theaters are virus-spreading venues, particularly if face-coverings are required and social distancing enforced.
Most film lovers go to the movies not for the popcorn, but to be excited and inspired; same with those who want to see dance or hear music. At the very least, New York could let theaters pursue one chain's strategy — so far successful in other states — of renting entire theaters to families and friend groups.
Even if they get permission to reopen, the deck is stacked against movies and other performance spaces. Business was grim for many before the pandemic, and now a skittish public isn't lining up to go back. One movie chain reports same-theater attendance is down 85%.
But there's currently little public health rationale to keep them shuttered. Light up those marquees.
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