The nation's largest theater chains are taking steps to limit the spread of the virus.

Movie Theatre
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AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas are taking steps to protect customers in the wake of the novel coronavirus.

The companies have announced new "social distancing" measures. Starting March 14, AMC says they will reduce how many seats will be sold at any given screening by 50 percent. So in an auditorium with 500 seats, AMC will cap sales at 250 tickets. Regal says they're doing the same.

While most U.S. public health officials have emphasized that COVID-19 is spread by being directly coughed on or from touching infected surfaces, a study this week suggested the virus can linger in the air for hours. Countries hard hit by the virus are encouraging people to stay at least one meter apart. So any measures taken to avoid people being clustered together is thought to help stymie the spread of the virus.

The chains also announced "enhanced theater cleaning" of contact surfaces and mandated that any employee who feels ill cannot come to work.

AMC currently operates more than 1,000 theaters across the country and bills itself as the largest theatrical exhibitor in the country.

"As the industry leader, AMC is taking aggressive, nationwide steps to provide additional space between guests within all its U.S. theatres, to keep its theatres clean and to discourage those with health concerns from coming to its theatres," AMC said in a statement.

In addition, the Alamo Drafthouse chain has closed two theaters (in Brooklyn and Yonkers) and is rolling out enhanced cleaning and social distancing in others.

The move comes on the heels of several tentpole titles pushing their planned spring release dates, including the James Bond film No Time to Die, Disney's Mulan and The Fast and the Furious sequel F9. 

Between that some films being are delayed and the public concern over COVID-19, theater ticket sales were expected to decline anyway, so the moves make sense from financial perspective as well. It's unclear if the moves will be considered sufficient as discovered cases of the virus in the United States are expected to sharply rise in the coming days as more testing becomes available.

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