People are returning to movie theaters in Orange County this weekend, with Regal Cinemas re-opening its theaters at Irvine Spectrum Saturday and AMC opening its larger locations across the county — both with limited capacity to guard against further spread of the coronavirus.

Orange County was upgraded from the purple to the red tier in California’s coronavirus monitoring system earlier this week. The move allowed for churches, theaters and other business to resume indoor operations, but with strict limits on capacity and other health measures in place.

Theaters, restaurants and churches are restricted to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is less. Museums, zoos and aquariums also may reopen indoor activities at 25% capacity. Shopping centers may expand from 25% capacity to half-capacity under the red tier, while gyms can reopen, but at 10% capacity.

The theater chains are instituting many other safety protocols as well.

Regal guests will be required to wear face masks at all times while in the auditoriums unless eating and drinking. Two empty seats will be maintained between groups, and the chain is “increasing our fresh air intake by 50%-100% above normal levels (which will help circulate more fresh air throughout auditoriums).”

Regal employees will undergo daily health screenings including temperature checks where mandated, will be required to wash hands every 30 to 60 minutes, and all employees will be required to wear masks.

Guests can purchase concessions with a mobile app while in the theater, but menu offerings have been reduced, and self-service condiment stands are closed.

Titles showing Saturday at the Irvine Spectrum were “Tenet,” “Unhinged,” “The New Mutants,” “The Personal History of David Copperfield” and “Broken Hearts Gallery.”

Regal’s Edwards Aliso Viejo & IMAX theater was also open Saturday.

Meanwhile, AMC had re-opened its Orange County multiplexes as of Saturday, including the Anaheim GardenWalk 6, Dine-In Fullerton 20, Orange 30, and Tustin 14 at The District.

AMC locations have similar capacity restrictions and safety protocols in place for guests and employees.

Health officials reported 12 more COVID-19 deaths and 142 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, raising the county’s totals to 1,081 deaths and 50,613 cases.

Hospitalizations in the county dropped from 239 on Thursday to 223 on Friday, while the number of intensive care unit patients inched up from 64 to 65, according to the Health Care Agency.

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced a four-tier color-coded system for tracking COVID-19 trends and determining when counties can move forward with business reopenings.

Orange County moved up this week from the most restrictive purple tier, which represents the areas with the most community spread of the virus, to the red tier.

In order to move out of a tier, there is a 21-day waiting period.

To get to the next tier — orange — the seven-day rate of residents testing positive for the coronavirus must be between 2% and 4.9%. It is currently at 4.2% in Orange County.

The county’s daily case count per 100,000 people stands at 5.2. To get to the next level, it must be at 2% to 4.9%.

The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients stands at -5%. The county has 34% of its intensive care units available and 62% of its ventilators available.

The OCHCA reported that 723,864 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 7,252 reported Friday. There have been 44,976 documented recoveries.

At the county’s weekly news conference Thursday, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel emphasized the importance of planning to get flu shots so the county can avoid the so-called “twindemic.”

“I am encouraging everyone in Orange County to get a flu vaccine,” Steel said.

Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief health officer and director of the HCA, said federal officials have “ensured that we have an increased number of flu vaccines available to states.”

“We are expecting several shipments at the end of September,” Chau said. “Be on the lookout for flu shot events in the community throughout the five districts.”

To observe social distancing, county officials will make the flu shots available on a walk-up and drive-thru basis, he said.

Many private kindergarten through sixth-grade schools that won waivers from the county and state returned to in-person instruction Tuesday. They included the Los Alamitos School District’s schools as well as 27 Diocese of Orange schools. Two of the Roman Catholic schools remained in distance learning.

But even with the positive trends, the earliest Orange County’s schools can reopen for personal instruction is Sept. 22.

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