As movie theater screens fade to black nationwide during the coronavirus pandemic, people sheltering in place are turning to drive-ins for much-needed entertainment.
People once drawn to the glare of regular movie theaters are finding themselves at drive-in films, a welcome relief in a new world where social distancing is crucial to survival.
The drive-in experience allows people to watch a movie projected on a screen from the safety of one’s vehicle. In some parts of the country, it’s one of the few public gatherings that’s not frowned upon during the coronavirus epidemic that’s killed nearly 50,000 people in the United States alone.
While some drive-in theaters are still closed, caught in the umbrella shutdown of nonessential services, others are starting to reopen. Atlanta’s Starlight Drive-In Theatre announced Wednesday that it’s now welcoming moviegoers – as long as they stay safely apart in their cars and practice social distancing at all times. But its snack bar will remain closed for now, it posted on social media.
Starlight closed on March 27 after the county issued stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
There are hundreds of theaters nationwide
As of October, there were 305 theaters in the United States with a total of 549 screens, according to the United Drive-in Theater Owner Association.
At least 8% of drive-in theaters have remained open despite restrictions on nonessential services, said John Vincent, president of the United Drive-in Theater Owner Association.
Such theaters have built-in social distancing and the flexibility to add more space between cars if needed, Vincent said.
“We can add whatever requirements to give communities much needed escape at this time,” he said. “We are lobbying governors to be one of the first places to reopen as some states start reopening their economies. We just look forward to the whole world returning to normalcy and are proud to be providing a small piece of that.”
States such as Florida and Idaho allowed drive-ins to stay open even when nonessential services shut down and governors imposed stay-at-home orders.
In Idaho, moviegoers were told to maintain social distancing requirements.
“Participants should avoid leaving the vehicle, vehicle occupants should be limited to household members, and common facilities such as concessions and restrooms should be avoided. Transactions and reservations should be handled online or over the phone,” state guidelines say.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he’s considering opening drive-in movie theaters and making an exception to the state mandate that nonessential businesses must be closed.
“Where is the public safety issue? It’s a drive-in theater. You’re in the car with the same people,” Cuomo told reporters this month.