With the number of virus cases crossing 6 million in the US this week there remain many areas of the country where cases continue to rise rapidly. Another 1.3 million new cases have been recorded in the US since August 1 – that is more than 20% off all recorded cases to date in the country. But a nationwide view offers no nuance.

As more cinemas open across the Domestic market we look at where each state sits in terms of open cinemas in relation to rising virus cases.

More than 700 locations in total re-opened across the Domestic market for the August 21-23 weekend, which saw UNHINGED make its US debut a week after launching in Canada. AMC and Regal accounted for approximately 300 of these between them – the first re-openings for either exhibitor. More than 40 states saw week-on-week growth in new theater openings.

The quadrant graph below shows each state and 9 Canadian provinces, measuring their market share of open cinemas (as of Saturday Aug. 22) to the percentage of their total COVID-19 cases that were recorded in week from Aug. 16-22.

Those states in the bottom half of the graph have less than 50% of movie theaters open by market share. Those in the top half are above 50%.

The states on the left are now seeing a low percentage of total cases newly recorded, suggesting they are potentially in a good place to re-open. Those on the right see a higher percentage of total cases still being newly recorded.

Readers can find their own state on the graph, but several stories immediately become apparent.

Canada is now largely re-open and had good reason to do so. Most Canadian provinces sit in the top left quadrant with new cases low. However, Manitoba is one to keep a close eye on with 24% of all cases recorded in the province coming in the 7-day window considered. This is not a reason to panic, Manitoba is a province with a low number of cases overall (less than 1,100 – similar to Nova Scotia, which saw just 0.3% of cases recorded in the 7 days), but the situation warrants monitoring.

Similarly Hawaii, which saw a number of locations re-open for the August 21 weekend, continues to see a rapid rise in cases with 24% of total cases recorded in that 7-day window. Hawaii has seen total cases in the state jump from under 2,200 to 7,600 since August 1 – that is 72% of recorded cases in the island state. Hawaii had the fewest cases of any state until mid-July, when it overtook Vermont. It has since overtaken Wyoming, Maine, Alaska, Montana and New Hampshire.

In contrast, New York and New Jersey are remaining very cautious in terms of re-opening. This is understandable given the two states were the worst hit in terms of total deaths from the virus – suffering more than a quarter of all US virus-related fatalities between them. Both states have seen the number of active cases dropping steadily throughout July and August.

Moviegoers around the world are keen to get back in a cinema. Cinema owners are even more keen for moviegoers to come. However, until a reliable vaccine is developed and available en masse there is always going to remain a need to keep a watchful eye on what is happening with the virus and consider what actions are currently being made, are possible, or remain questionable.

Clearly there is no “one size fits all” approach to this crisis and recovery from it. This week we saw China become the first global market to achieve the final (Stage 5) target of Gower Street’s Blueprint To Recovery. This is a measurable level of full recovery, showing a week equivalent to the top quartile in the past two years. In fact, only eight weeks in 2019 grossed more than the Yuan 1.68 billion ($243m) taken in China for the August 21 play-week. But China did something unseen in any other market: it closed cinemas for six months!

However in South Korea, the market that prior to China’s achievement last week had come closest to hitting Stage 4 (a week equivalent to the median week of the past two years), cinemas are re-imposing harsher capacity restrictions to help address a rising number of cases. As a result, box office, buoyant in recent weeks after a series of massive local hits, has retracted. But, putting this in perspective, South Korea has recorded just 19,000 cases; 372 cases per million of the population; and just 6 deaths per million of the population. The UK and Spain both saw 10 times that level of deaths per million of the population. South Korea is also the only major box office market that has never closed all its cinemas at any point throughout the pandemic.

This article was originally published in Screendollars’ newsletter #132 (August 31, 2020).