Staying safe and having fun

Forget Netflix and chill: Now’s the time to pull up and park at your local drive-in theater. 

Movie theaters across America have been empty for nearly three months in accordance with coronavirus restrictions. With crowd-pleasing releases like Marvel’s “Black Widow” and the James Bond film “No Time to Die” delayed until fall, movie lovers have turned to Netflix, Amazon and other streaming platforms to get their fix.

But for some hardcore film fans, the viewing experience isn’t the same without the in-person interactions or large screens. Cue in the drive-in theaters.

Drive-in movie theaters, an entertainment staple from the late 1950s to the early ’80s, are exactly what they sound like: a large outdoor screen visible from the comfort of your own car, using a radio frequency or external speaker to hear the audio. Now they’re being resurrected as a way to have an in-person viewing experience while adhering to social-distancing guidelines.

Outdoor viewing is in: Coronavirus shut down movie theaters, people flock to drive-ins instead

Drive-in movie theaters have dwindled in popularity since the 1950s (at their height, there were more than 4,000), but they've made a big comeback amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Drive-in movie theaters have dwindled in popularity since the 1950s (at their height, there were more than 4,000), but they’ve made a big comeback amid the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, there were 305 local drive-in theater options across the United States as of October 2019. While many new films are on hold, classics such as “Beetlejuice” or more recent films such as “Jumanji” are still crushing it at the drive-ins. Even a yet-to-be-released film is in on the action: “The Rental,” Dave Franco’s directorial debut that’s set for a July 24 release, is having a screening event at the Vineland Drive-In in California on June 18.

Some indoor theaters, such as the AMC chain, plan to reopen this summer, but the drive-in is a fun option for those who prefer to continue social distancing.

With social distancers and movie-fanatics in mind, USA TODAY has consulted three health experts in guaranteeing a fun-yet-safe family outing during the pandemic:

  • Dr.  Joseph A. Bellanti, a professor of Pediatrics and Microbiology-Immunology (Emeritus)

  • Beth Virnig, a professor of public health at the University of Minnesota who specializes in epidemiology and health services research. 

  • Dr.  Tania Elliott, an allergy and immunology specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Fingerlakes Drive-In in Auburn, New York, promotes hand hygiene right at the entrance.
Fingerlakes Drive-In in Auburn, New York, promotes hand hygiene right at the entrance.

Keep a mask handy, just in case

While most drive-in theaters require cars to be parked more than six feet apart, Elliott suggests bringing a mask, especially if you choose to sit in lawn chairs or visit the concession stand.

Bring snacks from home (if allowed)

Bellanti encourages individuals to bring their own soft drinks and snacks from home in order to avoid exposure when leaving the car to go to the restroom or concession stand.

“If individuals do leave the car for concession areas, it’s important that items be sanitized before bringing these external items into the automobile,” he says. “Wearing masks during this experience and keeping the six-foot distance is important.”

Bring hand sanitizer

If you’re wondering how often to sanitize your hands, Bellanti says it depends on how many external items are introduced into your car. For instance, sanitize your hands as well as the bag of chips from the concession stand.

Open the trunk of your car

Although it’s preferable to stay inside your car, Virnig says it’s OK to open the back hatch of your car or SUV and even sit outside to optimize your viewing experience. Or if you want to bring lawn chairs, keep them close to the vehicle.

“If you’re going to sit in chairs, sit in front of your car – not next to your car – because it would encroach on that six-foot buffer we’re trying to create,” she says.

Bring your own garbage bag

To avoid touching the communal trash cans in the parking lot, Virnig suggests bringing along your own Hefty bag and throwing it away once you get home..

Go easy on the Big Gulp

Try to avoid drinking too much water or soda so you can minimize trips to the public restroom – assuming it’s even open. 

“This is the biggest risk, in addition to food concession stands,” Elliott says. “Ideally, you don’t use the public restroom. Virus particles can be found in feces and can aerosolize when the toilet is flushed. If people must go to the bathroom, and there is a toilet seat cover, be sure to keep it down when flushing to minimize aerosolized spread.  Fully wash hands, which is better than hand sanitizer. Wearing gloves and mask will also help.”

Distract your kids with board/card games

One of the beauties of a family-friendly drive-in theater is the in-person socialization, as children run around or play on the playground with others before the start of the movie. 

But with such activity off-limits due to social distancing, plan alternative activities to entertain your children until the film starts.

“Bring board games or other forms of entertainment to keep your kids occupied without interacting with other kids,” Virnig says.

Card games, such as Uno, are easy to carry and clean up, and fun for the kids. 

Your coronavirus questions, answered: How can I disinfect a face mask? Should I wear gloves?

Relax and have fun

As important as it is to maintain proper social distancing and sanitation during the pandemic, Bellanti emphasizes the role of a positive attitude in one’s overall health.

“Psychologically, it’s pretty distressing and sometimes depressing to be isolated at home, so I think activities that would increase one’s positive views and minimize anxiety should be encouraged.”

Missing movie theaters in COVID-19 quarantine?  Fill up the car and head to a drive-in

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Drive-in movie theaters’ coronavirus comeback: Stay safe and have fun

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