In these stressful times, going to take in a movie, see a live performance or have fun at an arcade or indoor amusement park all seem pretty enticing.
But as the second wave of the coronavirus is slamming New Jersey and filling hospital beds, it remains to be seen if Gov. Phil Murphy will allow these businesses to remain open.
Arcades, bowling alleys, museums and aquariums were shut down due to the first wave until July 2, when they were able to reopen at 25% capacity and with other restrictions. Movie theaters and indoor performance venues were among the last businesses allowed to open Sept. 4, also with a 25% capacity limit not to exceed 150 people.
The governor has said he will consider every option for reducing the surge in COVID-19 cases. But he and state health officials have also said that the most frequent cause of outbreaks, according to information gleaned through contact tracing, is people holding gatherings in their homes, as opposed to business-related spread.
New Jersey’s latest seven-day average for new positive tests is 3,892, up 278% from a month ago. Hospitalizations have nearly tripled over the last month, though the 2,505 patients as of Thursday night are much lower than the peak in April of more than 8,000 patients.
We asked three experts whether Murphy should consider closing movie theaters and other entertainment venues as a way to possibly reduce the ever-escalating second wave. Here’s what they had to say.
Bojana Beric-Stojšic, director of the Master of Public Health program at Fairleigh Dickinson University:
“Even before there was COVID and it was only flu season, I avoided movie theaters,” Beric-Stojšic said. Theaters could be a room full of people who may be sick and you don’t know how good the ventilation is, she said.
“There are certain places that can control the quality of air but there are some that you cannot. And if that’s the case, that you cannot, I think it’s better to be closed,” she said.
As far as other entertainment venues, Beric-Stojšic said that businesses could reduce some risk by upgrading ventilation, sanitizing every surface and letting people come by appointment only to limit that capacity.
“There has to be some measure of mitigation, and then allow people to take the risk if they really cannot stay away from bowling, for example,” she said. But she thinks it is best to stay away.
“I think that we can take this year as just a year in our lives — no matter how old we are — that’s different. And that we really need to adjust and change our way of doing things and find alternatives to some things that we have been doing comfortably before.”
Perry Halkitis, dean of and professor in the Rutgers School of Public Health:
Halkitis said that no activity is 100% safe, but there may be enough of a benefit to some activity that it seems to be worth the risk. For him, that does not include movie theaters and other entertainment spots.
“When I do that decisional balance to determine what is essential and what not is not essential to our lives functioning in a normal way, this does not seem like it makes it to the top of the list,” he said.
“The problem with movie theaters and entertainment places and bowling alleys is that you have an opportunity for people to socialize, to let their guard down,” he said.
Especially if bowling alleys or venues are serving alcohol, he said, “people become disinhibited and their behaviors become more risky. So, to me, this is a potentially high risk area that could function to spread,” he said.
Bindu Balani, infectious disease doctor at Hackensack University Medical Center and faculty physician at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine:
“My personal bias is I would not take my child or my family to the theaters, just knowing that you’re going to be sitting inside for more than 15 minutes with somebody who may or may not have [COVID-19],” Balani said.
She also said she does not trust that most commercial buildings have upgraded their ventilations systems to the point that viral particles would be filtered out frequently enough.
Balani said that it may be easy for some people to call for entertainment businesses to close since they aren’t strictly necessary, but for some people they may feel important. Her daughter is a varsity bowler and misses it, but Balani said she won’t let her return to bowling because of the risk.
“It’s very sad to see the negative outcomes of the businesses that are having their livelihoods changed,” she said. “But if everybody did their part at the same time, instead of having this staggered nine-month process, we should have been done.”
Thank you for relying on us to provide the journalism you can trust. Please consider supporting NJ.com with a subscription.
Rebecca Everett may be reached at email@example.com. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.