As movie theaters set to reopen, several major chains have outlined their plans to protect moviegoers from COVID-19. But critics on social media say that cinemas are not going far enough if they do not require customers to wear face masks.
AMC Theaters, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark all said in their reopening plans released this week that employees will be required to wear masks and other personal protective equipment, but the same will not be asked of customers unless local or state officials mandate the use of masks in public spaces. Instead, they will be encouraged to use masks, with AMC saying on Thursday that they will have masks available for $1.
But when AMC CEO Adam Aron explained the reasoning behind his company’s mask policy in an interview with Variety, it triggered a backlash.
“We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” Aron said. “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.”
For some, encouragement and “leading by example” is not enough.
“Enjoy not having the business of those of us who don’t see mask wearing as a ‘political controversy’ but as a necessary step to protect our loved ones,” tweeted film critic Dan Murrell. “I think this is an incredibly irresponsible stance.”
“[AMC, Cinemark and Regal] are buffoons and cowards at the expense of public health. I understand they need concession revenue, but there’s no excuse they can’t be mandatory entering/exiting,” added film critic Brendan Hodges.
Symone D. Sanders, senior advisor and spokesperson for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, also decried Aron’s comments. “Canceling my AMC membership because there isn’t anything political about wearing a mask,” she wrote. “It’s just a good public health practice that will help save lives!”
While Aron and AMC drew much of the criticism, others noted that Regal and Cinemark have taken the same stance of leaving it to health officials to force people to wear masks. One state where the chains will have to require customers to wear masks is California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered masks to be worn in all public areas after a surge in COVID-19 infections statewide and increased hospitalizations in some counties. The state’s public health department reported on Thursday that it recorded a record 4,084 infections in a single day.
“Simply put, we are seeing too many people with faces uncovered — putting at risk the real progress we have made in fighting the disease,” Newsom said at a COVID-19 press briefing. “California’s strategy to restart the economy and get people back to work will only be successful if people act safely and follow health recommendations. That means wearing a face covering, washing your hands and practicing physical distancing.”
Spokespersons for the three chains did not immediately respond to requests for comment.