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Venues experiment with ‘chequerboard’ seating

Several entertainment and leisure venues in Europe, North America and Australasia have begun to experiment with so-called ‘chequerboard’ seating – a formation some believe could present a safe alternative to forcing seated venues to close until the coronavirus threat has passed.

Chequerboard seating involves leaving every other seat in a venue empty, mimicking the grid used by the games of draughts (US ‘checkers’) and chess, spreading patrons out diagonally to minimise the spread of pathogens from person to person. While the formation will leave a venue half empty, it does allow planned events to go ahead while reducing the risk of spreading the virus.

Venues to have implemented chequerboard seating plans include the TIFF Bell Lightbox cultural centre in Toronto, the Court Theatre in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Alamo Drafthouse cinema in San Francisco, and the Irish cinema chain Omniplex, which has movie theatres in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

In New Orleans, all bars and restaurants were told earlier this week to reduce seating by up to 50%, with “a checkerboard-type seating pattern” suggested as a way of doing so, with New Mexico venues now under similar restrictions. The White House Correspondents’ Association of journalists, meanwhile, is similarly spacing out its members for US government press briefings in Washington DC.

Chequerboard seating involves leaving every other seat in a venue empty, mimicking the grid used by draughts and chess

TicketNews (TN) reports that one enterprising company has already created its own “seating distancing system”, dubbed Checkerboard Seating, that separates attendees by a horizontal distance of a minimum of three feet (0.91m).

Citing scientific studies which suggest disease-carrying droplets decrease in amount and size beyond 3ft, the site explains: “Built on the notion of minimizing [sic] the potential spread of pathogens by spreading attendees out, Checkerboard Seating staggers individuals throughout rows, distancing them to a horizontal distance of three feet at minimum.

“While it requires the sacrifice of [not] filling every seat, the checkerboard design relies on the understanding that transmission of droplets (which carry potential pathogens from one individual to another – when they sneeze, for example). Research says that the amount and size of droplets decreases exponentially after three feet. And in a theater-seating scenario, patrons are not facing each other, which further reduces the risk of transmission.”

For now, the majority of venues – including those which had formerly reduced capacity – have simply closed their doors. However, “if Checkerboard Seating pans out, we may see a new configuration at those first events once this blows over,” concludes TN.


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