Local movie buffs who enjoy watching films on the big screen won’t have to wait much longer to head back to the cinema.
Movie theaters in Westchester and Putnam counties can reopen next Friday with restrictions as Gov. Andrew Cuomo also announced Saturday that the state would begin a new “micro-cluster strategy” to prevent localized COVID-19 outbreaks from widening.
Cuomo said that theaters outside of New York City and the state’s “red zones” where there are elevated rates of the virus can resume operations starting Oct. 23 with 25 percent capacity and no more than 50 people per screen.
Theaters will only be able to operate if the infection rate in the county where they are located is less than 2 percent on a 14-day rolling average. Westchester currently has a 1.3 percent seven-day rolling average and Putnam is at 1.6 percent.
Other requirements call for mandatory mask wearing unless someone is seated or eating or drinking; assigned seating to ensure social distancing at all times; additional staff to control the flow of patrons and ensure compliance; and an enhanced air filtration system, ventilators and air purification.
Other than the five boroughs New York City, Rockland, Orange and Greene counties currently do not qualify to have theaters reopen along with several southern tier counties that border Pennsylvania.
The news comes too late to help at least two local venues – the Mount Kisco Theater and the multiplex at the Cortland Town Center. In late summer Bow, Tie Cinemas, the operator of the theater on Main Street in Mount Kisco, confirmed that it was shuttering the facility, Last month, Regal Cinemas announced its intentions of closing all 500-plus movie theaters throughout the United States, although some of those may reopen in the future.
New Cluster Strategy
The news regarding theaters was preceded by the governor unveiling a new strategy to combat COVID-19 outbreaks on such a localized scale that individual streets with a higher than usual caseload will be pinpointed.
“We are now going to analyze it on a block-by-block level,” Cuomo said. “We actually have data that is so specific that we can’t share it because it would violate privacy restrictions, but we know exactly where the cases are coming from.”
The strategy will stay in place at least through the fall and until there is a vaccine, he said. Until now, decisions had been made on a statewide or regional basis.
The goal of the micro-cluster strategy is to minimize community spread and limit disruptions to daily life, such as enacting school and business closings. Cuomo did not outline what level of infection would trigger the newest approach. He called it smarter and more effective.
“To make it happen is the trick,” Cuomo said. “You have to have refined detection, which is more targeted testing, you need to have more mitigation measures for those areas that reflects why the virus is spreading in those areas and then you have to do enforcement.”
On Friday, the state recorded nearly 160,000, with sharp increases in the red zones.
Cuomo cited improved infection rates from hotspots in Rockland and Orange counties and Brooklyn and Queens from the last week in September compared to this week. Rockland reached a 12.29 percent infection rate during the week of Sept. 27. As of Friday, it had a 5.05 infection rate.
All so-called red zones throughout the state have seen a decrease in infection rates from 6.91 percent three weeks ago to 4.34 percent yesterday.
Although New York’s red zone infection rates are about four times higher than the statewide rate of 1.1 percent on Friday, it is still lower than 34 other states as areas of the United States have seen an explosion of infections in recent days, Cuomo said.
He warned residents to stay vigilant and to avoid COVID fatigue in order to stay healthy.
“If you allow the fatigue to take over and don’t follow the rules, the virus will spread,” Cuomo said. “It is that simple. We know how to control it, but you can’t get tired when the virus isn’t tired.”
Cuomo also announced the formation of a state advisory council that will evaluate the efficacy of any COVID-19 vaccine that will be released by the federal government in the months ahead to help with public confidence