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Movie theaters adding efforts to help mitigate COVID-19 outbreak

McKenzie Horrocks cleans the seats and food trays between movies at the Megaplex Theatres at Jordan Commons in Sandy on Friday, March 13, 2020.
McKenzie Horrocks cleans the seats and food trays between movies at the Megaplex Theatres at Jordan Commons in Sandy on Friday, March 13, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As more people implement ways to minimize their exposure to potential coronavirus, some movie theaters are enhancing their efforts to protect patrons who make the decision to venture out for an escape from the new normal of social distancing.

In response to the COVID-19 health situation, Larry H. Miller Megaplex Theatres has instituted new policies for cleaning their facilities and reducing the number of people allowed to view films in each of their individual theaters.

“We’re sanitizing the seats between showtimes,” said Jeff Whipple, vice president of advertising, marketing and public relations for Megaplex Theatres. “We’ve put a cap on capacity of the auditoriums.”

“By reducing the number of guests per auditorium, it actually gives our team more time to go through the auditorium and sanitize each seat that’s occupied, in addition to our regular cleaning protocols,” he said.

Whipple said the company has been monitoring events closely since the health situation started taking a serious turn internationally.

“We actually ordered hand sanitizer stations well ahead of time in the event something would develop here,” he added. “As experts have been advising, we’ve been keeping close tabs on the developing situation, literally for weeks.”

Among the major changes that have been made are limiting capacity in each auditorium to no more than 75 guests, sanitizing each occupied seat between showtimes, refunding prepurchased guest tickets for any films that have been rescheduled by Hollywood studios and scaling back or canceling freshly prepared and perishable menu items in the food court.

Additionally, the company is also rescheduling or refunding clients or organizations that are hosting corporate events, business meetings or parties for groups exceeding 100 people.

Employees are also wearing gloves, sanitizing door handles, counters, touch screens at the box office, the self-ticketing kiosks, soft drink machines, railings and other surfaces, he said.

Signage to encourage proper hand-washing for guests and employees has also been increased.

“Our team is going through and managing the balance and if a show is filling up, we have the ability — because we’re 100% digital — to add additional showtimes,” he explained.

He mentioned that patrons can also choose their seats prior to arriving at the venue.

“Both on the mobile app and our website, you can see the seat map where seats are occupied. You can self-select and determine how much space you want ahead of time,” he said. “When you get to the actual building into the auditorium, if additional seats have filled in, our team is happy to re-seat guests. There’s plenty of room to move around.”

With no timetable for when the coronavirus situation will end, for the time being the company will make the adjustments necessary to provide a welcoming environment for those willing to get outside as an escape from the reality that currently exists.

“We are adapting to the situation and trying to make it safe and comfortable for guests,” Whipple said. “We all transitioned into this extraordinary circumstance with the understanding this is a temporary situation (and that) the health situation will eventually resolve (itself) and business will go back to normal.”

Cinemark Theatres CEO Mark Zoradi sent an email to its patrons saying it plans to take similar precautions, listing detailed plans that include hourly disinfection of multiple surfaces, enhanced deep cleaning nightly in all auditoriums, including armrests, cup holders and buttons. The company is honoring its policy on refillable concessions, but said it will provide new disposable containers.