How Movie Theaters Can Survive Monkeypox
Movie theaters have faced a tough road these last few years. COVID-19 shut the entire industry down and it has not fully recovered, despite the massive summer box-office of “Top Gun: Maverick.” The movie industry is facing a paucity of releases in Q3 and Q4 this year. In short, things don’t look good for cinemas and haven’t for a while now.
Just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse, along comes monkeypox. While monkeypox has not yet been declared a pandemic, it has been declared a public health emergency by both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Several states in the US have declared states of emergency due to monkeypox outbreaks.
Before monkeypox becomes the next COVID-19 – and threatens to shut down movie theaters – our safety experts have some tips that can help movie theaters stay open and stay safe during the monkeypox outbreak.
Before we get to our tips, let’s look at why monkeypox is such threat to cinemas.
How Monkeypox Threatens Movie Theaters
Monkeypox is a safety issue for all of us, but this virus presents specific safety issues for movie theaters. We want to highlight three:
- How monkeypox spreads
- How long monkeypox lives on surfaces
- How long monkeypox lives in food and water
The first major threat to the movie theater business is how monkeypox spreads.
How Monkeypox Spreads
Monkeypox spreads primarily though contact with infected persons or through contact with surfaces and fabric that infected persons have touched. It can spread through other means, for more information on monkeypox see our previous article on the virus.
Put simply, if someone infected with monkeypox were to sit in a theater seat or touch the handrails those surfaces would very likely be contaminated with the virus, making each seat in the house a potential spreading source.
The fact that monkeypox spreads through contact requires businesses to take different actions to keep their staff and customers safe. COVID-19 spreads primarily though respiratory droplets, so our defense against it requires proper ventilation, masking, and distancing.
With monkeypox, our strategies must change and grow. And we will get to those in just a moment. But first, we need to address just how long monkeypox lives on surfaces and fabrics.
How Long Monkeypox Live on Surfaces
According to the CDC, monkeypox has been found to live on surfaces for up to 15 days. Other viruses closely related to monkeypox can live on porous surfaces for weeks or months.
The more porous the surface and the more absorbent the fabric the longer the virus can live on or in it. Plastic, metal, and glass surfaces are far less porous than fabrics and cushions.
This means that if an infected person sat in a theater seat (most often a cushion covered in fabric) that seat could be an active potential transmission point for monkeypox for over two weeks.
But monkeypox has one more trick up its sleeve. It can live in food and water.
How Long Monkeypox Lives in Food and Water
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), monkeypox can live in refrigerated food and liquids for up to several weeks. This presents a special issue for cinemas.
Movie theaters make the majority of their money from concessions and monkeypox’s ability to live in food and water threatens that profit sector. Unlike COVID-19, which created the largest issues in the theater itself, monkeypox creates an equally risky issue in the lobby and concession stands.
Monkeypox is a real threat to the movie theater business at a time when it is already teetering on the brink. To help cinemas prepare for and survive monkeypox, our safety experts offer some tips.
Here are the top five ways movie theaters can survive monkeypox.
#1 – Sanitize Surfaces Between Screenings
The best defense against monkeypox is going to be routine sanitizing of all touched surfaces. There are two ways to go about this:
- Sanitizing Crews
For theaters with the budget to support the effort, we highly recommend sending in a trained staff to sanitize each seat that was used and all communal, high-touch, surfaces between screenings.
Allow enough time for the surfaces to dry after sanitizing and be sure that all staff members are properly protected from exposure themselves. See CDC guidelines for more information.
We are aware that there is a worker shortage nationwide. So, for those cinemas that can’t afford (or can’t find) the staff to thoroughly disinfect each theater between screenings, we recommend giving each patron a sanitizing packet along with their tickets.
This packet would include all the materials, wipes, and protectants that would allow each guest to properly sanitize their seats and surroundings. This puts the onus on each moviegoer to protect themselves, but you are giving them the tools to do so.
#2 – Assigned Seating
Many theater chains have, in the last two decades, transitioned to assigned seating. This is a popular option for guest because it allows them to get the seat they like without requiring them to show up an hour early and wait in line.
In a monkeypox outbreak, assigned seating can save lives, money, and time. If a theater manager knows exactly which seats were used in the previous screening, they know exactly which seats to sanitize. This will keep staff members from cleaning areas that were unused and allocate resources where they can do the most good.
If you are not currently assigning seat in your theaters, consider doing so during the monkeypox outbreak. We also recommend referencing in-theater surveillance footage to ensure that guests sat in the seats they were assigned.
#3 – Simplify Concessions
There is nothing more traditional than a tub of popcorn, a box of candy, and a soda at the moves. But in recent years, theatres have begun offering all manner of food options, from hotdogs and nachos to pretzels and churros.
In the face of a monkeypox outbreak, we highly recommend simplifying concessions. While we would like to recommend that theaters stop serving popcorn, we know that is unlikely to happen. But we would encourage cinemas to cut down on the number of prepared, unwrapped food they serve.
The more hands that touch the food the more chances that it can become contaminated. We recommend sticking primarily with wrapped and packaged snacks until monkeypox is over.
#4 – Sanitize Concessions
Once we have simplified concessions, we must make sure that we have sanitized them too. We recommend checking the packaged-on date for all your candy and soda products to make sure they were packaged at least 15 days ago, if not a month ago.
Not all products have packaged-on dates on them. For those products without one, we would recommend theaters store their snacks for two weeks if they have the space and can afford to. Keeping them out of circulation for a period of time will help increase our chances that the products are monkeypox-free.
Additionally, we recommend that the surfaces of the snacks be wiped down before stocking. Concession staff should wear gloves to protect themselves and guests from potential contamination.
#5 – Stay Informed
Monkeypox is not currently spreading as quickly as COVID-19. This means that some areas of the country are in the midst of outbreaks while others are free from the virus. We highly recommend that movie theater managers and owners, as well as staff members, stay informed about the monkeypox situation in their area.
When there is a major outbreak in your area, we would recommend that theaters go even farther than our above recommendations. In a serious outbreak situation, it might be prudent to temporarily eliminate popcorn or perhaps even concessions altogether. By staying informed, cinemas can rachet their safety standards up or down depending on the situation in their area.
There is no indication that monkeypox is going away anytime soon. The best strategy is to prepare early. Movie theaters have already been through so much these past two and a half years and it doesn’t look as if the tough times are over yet.
By sanitizing between screenings, assigning seats, simplifying & sanitizing concessions, and staying informed, movie theaters stand a good chance of surviving this monkeypox outbreak.
DISCLAIMER: This information should not be considered comprehensive and is not a substitute for hiring risk management professionals and personnel trained in monkeypox-specific procedures. Please consult with your insurance company, lawyers, and health and safety professionals before operating a movie theater during a monkeypox outbreak.