Article published by Vulture Magazine on August 24, 2020

That was in late June. The major theatrical chains were planning to reopen the following month, in time to lure moviegoers back with the double-whammy releases of Mulan and Tenet, then slated for late-July openings. But those plans were scuttled as COVID-19 continued to spread across the country, and the death toll rose. Since then, Disney has moved Mulan to its streaming platform, Warner Bros. has rescheduled (and re-rescheduled) Tenet’s debut date, and cineplexes in many states have remained closed. AMC finally began the staggered reopening of its locations Thursday, with Regal and Marcus Theaters following suit Friday; all are hoping to have significant screens available for Tenet’s American rollout, which is now scheduled to begin Labor Day weekend.

So I again rang up Dr. Robert Lahita, chairman of medicine at St. Joseph’s Health in New Jersey, professor of medicine at New York Medical College, and adjunct professor of medicine at Rutgers, to discuss whether or not we should be rushing to the box office this week.

Should I Go to a Movie Theater Right Now?

“We’ve seen 30,000 new cases popping up in the southern states and the Sunbelt,” Lahita told us back in June. “It seemed there was a flattened curve, and then all of a sudden, we’re going up again. So these guys are going to open theaters when we have an increase of infections?”

Concern over rising infection rates aside, Lahita believes basic safety measures — including socially distanced reserved seating, frequent cleaning of screening rooms, and temperature checks at the Cineplex door — will go a long way for those attempting a return to the theater. “There’s always an inherent risk, but I was actually surprised at how thorough some of the planning is,” Lahita adds of the broad strategies he’s seen.

The chains’ initial reluctance to require face masks on all guests, however, had Lahita concerned. “You’d have to be nuts” not to wear a mask, he says. “You’re with a group of strangers. Unless you’re sitting 20 or 30 feet from the other person, you run the risk of being infected. There’s no question about it. You know how the air is in a theater: It’s not circulated very well. If you don’t wear a mask, you take your chances.”

Thankfully, AMC and Regal reversed course, announcing that guests would be required to wear masks — though their present policy allows for masks to be removed while eating and drinking concessions.

Article published by Vulture Magazine on June 24, 2020

The last time I spoke to Dr. Robert Lahita about going to the movies in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, going to the movies was still an option. When we talked on Thursday, March 12, he advised a “wait and see” approach: “I think people should wait and give it a two-week period — maybe until April 1 — to regroup, because we don’t know how long this thing’s going to last. We really don’t.”

We all know how that two-week cautionary period ended; by the following Monday, most of the movie theaters in the country were closed, and they have remained closed since. “I was absolutely shocked,” Lahita confesses, “because I had no idea that we were going to be in such a conundrum. I really thought that this was going to be something like the flu where, yeah, you’d better be careful. But not a Chernobyl.”

But Lahita, chairman of medicine at St. Joseph’s Health in New Jersey, professor of medicine at New York Medical College, and adjunct professor of medicine at Rutgers, was right about the rest of it. We don’t know how long this thing is going to last. Alas, theater owners and film distributors are getting antsy, so as states are beginning to reopen (even as infection numbers continue to rise in certain regions), some of their theaters are reopening as well. The theatrical chains and movie studios are exploring their options this summer, with Disney and Warner Bros. setting late-July opening dates for Mulan and Tenet, respectively, and companies like AMC and Regal banking on those high-profile releases pulling audiences back in — albeit at limited capacity and with hefty safety measures in place.

So I put in another call to Lahita, to update his advice for safe pandemic moviegoing now that we know more about how and when COVID-19 spreads.

Should I Go to the Movie Theater Right Now?

“We’ve seen 30,000 new cases popping up in the southern states and the Sunbelt,” Lahita begins. “It seemed there was a flattened curve, and then all of a sudden, we’re going up again. So these guys are going to open theaters when we have an increase of infections?”

There is a remarkable book by the late Oliver Sacks MD, called Musicophelia, which describes the importance of music in the life of each human. In fact, it is known that people with dementia who cannot recall the date or time, or fail to recognize their sons and daughters, respond to music. It might be tunes from their era or just songs that everyone knows and sings at parties. There is a fundamental part of the brain that recalls melodies. Some people get chills down their spine when listening to music (90% of us) and that is because music engages the parts of the brain involved in paying attention, making predictions and updating memory (Stanford Medicine 2015). Musical experience strengthens many of the same areas of the brain that are impaired in individuals with language and learning difficulties. Music therapy and appreciation of music have distinct medical benefits for everyone. In fact, if you play an instrument it is known that musicians have superior working memory compared to non-musicians (PLOS One 2015).

Back pains are common as one ages.

Sitting hunched over reading a book can flatten your spine and make you likely to have significant back problems such as early arthritis. If you have pain after studying or reading for prolonged periods, use a heating pad to the affected area. Try to sit straight when doing something like studying. You should gently stretch and move your head and neck every four hours.

Get a good mattress. It should be firm enough to support your back, but soft enough to conform to the shape of your body. If you are unsure about the quality of your mattress (whether it is hard enough for you), take it off the bed and place it on the floor for a couple of nights without the bedsprings. If you feel better, get a new mattress.

Sleeping on your back is the best position for your back. Some people have been “belly” sleepers since childhood and cannot sleep any other way. Side sleepers have the best luck avoiding back pains. Slip a pillow between your legs to take the pressure off your hips and tuck your legs toward your chest. This is especially good for people who already have back pain and for pregnant women.

Never sit for too long a period. Get up and move about every 30 minutes to give your body a break.
Your spine needs a strong stomach and healthy back. Climbing stairs daily and carrying groceries help these muscles. Do exercise daily and not just on weekends.

One last fact. People who smoke are three times more likely to get lower back pains and the belief is that smoking curbs blood flow to your spine. Moreover, it weakens bones and makes the disks between the spinal bodies break down faster. Even coughing from smoking can weaken your back and eventually cause significant pains.