In keeping with the state guidelines for reopening for "red" tier counties, at least two movie theaters in Napa County reopened for business last week at 25-percent capacity. More are now set to open this week in San Rafael and elsewhere in Marin County after it reached "red" status on Tuesday.

While San Francisco and Santa Clara are sticking to stricter lockdown orders despite being the second tier of the state's reopening timeline guidance, and despite declining new COVID cases, Napa County went ahead with allowing the 12-screen Century Napa Valley and XD cinema to reopen along with another theater in St. Helena last Thursday. Both theaters are open with restrictions that permit only 25-percent of seats to be occupied, every other row empty unless there are those big recliner rows, and two seats empty on either side of any occupied seats.

As Cinemark rep Chanda Brashears tells KPIX, "We had some really avid moviegoers who were excited to be off the couch and back in the theater."

Opening Friday are the San Rafael Northgate 15, also owned by Cinemark, along with theaters in Larkspur, Novato and Mill Valley. The Fairfax Theatre in Fairfax, which is owned by Sonoma County-based Cinema West, is also planning to reopen Friday.

Face masks and gloves are required for all theater employees, and masks are required for patrons as well, though like in restaurants they can be removed for eating and drinking. Some experts would caution that being in an enclosed space with strangers, regardless of distancing, still comes with infection risk with or without a mask.

Nonetheless, cinemas around the world have begun reopening, and there haven't been super-spreading stories yet.

Dave Corkill, the CEO of Cinema West — which owns 14 cinemas around the Bay Area — says that the "CinemaSafe" protocols they are using should keep everyone fairly safe. As he tells KPIX, "I think the plan makes our businesses safer than many other so-called essential businesses like Walmart."

New cases in Napa have been in the single digits most days for the last few weeks, and the same is true in Marin County for at least a week. Sonoma County hopes to be entering the "red" tier as well, perhaps next week, and for cinema owners there it can't happen soon enough.

As Corkill tells Bay City News this week, Cinema West has already made the "unfortunate" decision to shutter the 58-year-old Tiburon Playhouse as a result of the pandemic. He says the lockdown order lasted too long and the company has had to make tough choices in order to survive.

Will there even be any movies to see, though? Film studios have been holding back many big releases and in some cases scheduling them for next summer in order to avoid losing too much money on them. Tenet is playing, but studios are already considering postponing more releases as dismal ticket-sale numbers start rolling in from places where theaters are open.

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