In most parts of the country, movie theaters are now open again, showing first-run movies like Tenet and The New Mutants for the first time since March. Whether they — or any theater where performances are held — is safe for attendees in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is another matter entirely.

Many health experts have expressed reservations about theaters; a UCLA epidemiologist told the A.V. Club recently that spending several hours in an enclosed space with maskless, eating strangers was “not a good idea,” to name just one example. This week, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases weighed in. During a lengthy conversation with actress Jennifer Garner on her Instagram, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, predicted it would be a year or more before it was truly safe to return to a theater.

Most of Garner and Fauci’s discussion, which you can watch in its entirety below, focused on issues like safety in schools and the trustworthiness of vaccines. Towards the end of their session, Garner asked Fauci when patrons will be able to “sit in a theater and watch our favorite performers up on stage again?” Here was his response:

If we get a vaccine that's a knockout vaccine that's 85 - 90 percent effective. I don't think we'll get that, I'll settle for 70 percent effective. If we get a really good vaccine and just about everybody gets vaccinated, you'll have a degree of immunity in the general community that I think you can walk into a theater without a mask and feel like it's comfortable that you aren't going to be at risk.

Garner’s question was geared more towards live theater and Broadway, which remains shuttered with no plans to open before the beginning of 2021 at the very earliest. Still, the principle is the same. Whether watching a movie or a staged performance, you’re still in an enclosed area, breathing the same air, for two hours or more. I’m not a medical doctor, but I would imagine that live theater is actually more safe than a movie — assuming both are enforcing the same social distancing — because Broadway doesn’t have the same culture of munching on popcorn during the entire show. That would theoretically make it easier to institute a mask policy.

Fauci is about as reliable and knowledgeable an expert as there is on this subject, and he says we shouldn’t expect to be back inside theaters without the creeping fear of a terrible illness until the end of 2021 — maybe the middle of the year if we’re lucky and enough people get the vaccine when it’s ready. Ask yourself, given how 2020 has gone so far: Do you think we’re going to be lucky and people are going to get the vaccine when it’s ready?

 Here’s Dr. Fauci’s talk with Jennifer Garner:

Gallery — What We Miss About Movie Theaters:

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