Health and Wellness

AMC is selling movie tickets for 15 cents — but is it safe to go to theaters?

Noam Galai | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

When more than 100 AMC movie theaters around the country reopen on August 20, ticket will only cost 15 cents a piece — a big discount on the average how much tickets cost before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The opening-day promotion is a nod to the price of a movie ticket when the chain first opened in the 1920's, and presumably, a way to get audiences back into hard hit movie theaters. Throwback movies like "Grease" and "Back to the Future," and in the weeks following, new releases like "Tenet" and "The New Mutant" will be available. 

But with the pandemic still raging, is it safe to go to the movies?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, attending a movie theater and being in a crowd is considered a high-risk activity, meaning the situation increases your risk of exposure to Covid-19.

AMC has announced several new safety measures, starting with mandatory masks for all moviegoers. However, AMC says you can remove your mask in order to eat or drink inside the theater, which could be problematic because it even for a short time allows people to spread respiratory droplets in the theater. Covid-19 can also be transmitted by touching an infected object, and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Eating popcorn, candy and other hand-held concessions further increases the potential for exposure. 

AMC theaters will also only be filled at 30% capacity, and every other row of seats will be blocked off to ensure social distancing. Between shows, the entire auditorium will be sprayed with a disinfectant and high-touch surfaces will be cleaned. And AMC has upgraded HVAC systems with MERV 13 filters "wherever possible," according to the theater's website. These filters may reduce the spread of Covid-19, but they are in short supply

However, even with these precautions, experts say that going to an indoor movie theater is risky. While wearing masks does reduce the risk of transmission, sitting indoors for hours next to other people increases your risk of exposure. Air-conditioning in movie theaters may increase the transmission of respiratory droplets that contain the Covid-19 virus. 

In a risk-assessment chart created by Texas Medical Association Covid-19 Task Force and Committee on Infectious Diseases, "going to a movie theater" was ranked "high risk," along with eating at a buffet, exercising at a gym, attending a concert and going to an amusement park. 

Some states with AMC theaters will remain closed until authorized to do so by state and local officials. For example, AMC locations in New York, California and Florida will not open this month.  

It would be safer to see a movie at an outdoor drive-in theater, Dr. Ravina Kullar, a Los Angeles-based infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist and spokeswoman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America told CNBC on June 25. Outdoor drive-in movie theaters have seen a come-back this summer during the pandemic, because they allow guests to enjoy movies from a distance without leaving their vehicle. 

The CDC recommends that you take extra precautions for 14 days if you've engaged in a high-risk activity like going to a movie theater, including staying home as much as possible, avoiding contact with people who may be at higher-risk of illness from Covid-19 and getting tested. 

AMC is the largest cinema chain in the United States. Before the pandemic, AMC faced more than $4.75 billion in debt, CNBC previously reported. In July, AMC struck a debt deal that would reduce their debt by $640 million, and remain open through 2021. 

Still not everyone is convinced movie theaters will survive the pandemic. NBA Hall-of-Famer Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who once invested in movie theaters, told CNBC Make It that he's doubtful. "I don't know how they're going to come back," he told CNBC Make It on Aug. 3. 

See a list of the theaters that are reopening here

AMC did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment.

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