AMC reverses course, will require guests to wear masks at its theaters

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“Theater Closed” signs are posted in front of the AMC Montebello, as the US chain of AMC movie theaters closes for 6 to 12 weeks, On March 17, 2020 in Montebello, California, as the coronavirus (covid-19) epidemic leads to restaurant and school closures and workers working from home in an effort to encourage social distancing.

Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

AMC reversed course on a controversial policy on Friday, saying it will now require all patrons at its movie theaters to wear face masks in an effort to quell the spread of the coronavirus.

Initially, AMC had decided that masks would be optional, saying the decision not to require masks was made in an effort to avoid politics.

“We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” Adam Aron, CEO of AMC, told Variety Thursday. “We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary. We think that the vast majority of AMC guests will be wearing masks. When I go to an AMC feature, I will certainly be wearing a mask and leading by example.”

Aron’s statement caused a stir on social media.

“It’s a public health crisis, not a political opinion,” one Twitter user posted. 

AMC was already requiring its employees to wear masks and have their temperature taken before arriving to work. The company will sell masks for $1 a piece to guests that forgot to bring one. 

“This announcement prompted an intense and immediate outcry from our customers, and it is clear from this response that we did not go far enough on the usage of masks,” Aron said in a statement Friday. “At AMC Theatres, we think it is absolutely crucial that we listen to our guests. Accordingly, and with the full support of our scientific advisors, we are reversing course and are changing our guest mask policy. As we reopen theatres, we now will require that all AMC guests nationwide wear masks as they enter and enjoy movies at our theatres.”

Cinemark and Regal are encouraging guests to wear mask, but not making it a requirement for entry, unless it is mandated by local health officials.

“The word that comes to mind is, irresponsible,” Doug Stone, president of Box Office Analyst, said of AMC’s initial stance. “Personally, I would not go to a theater right now if masks were not required.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered all Californians to wear face coverings while in public following concerns that an increase in state coronavirus cases had been caused by residents failing to voluntarily take that precaution.  

While health officials have touted the effectiveness of masks, President Donald Trump has politicized the issue, stating that some Americas may wear face masks not to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but as a way to “signal disapproval of him.”

Trump’s former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday that wearing masks can save lives.

“I don’t think this is a political issue, ” he said. “Universal masking is one of the simplest interventions that we can take that could probably reduce the odds that we have another epidemic.”

The dust-up over Aron’s comments comes as AMC flagged that is has “substantial doubts” about its ability to continue operations if it were forced to keep its theaters closed for an extended period of time, has faced pushback from creditors over its debt swap plan and has had a very public dispute with Universal.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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