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AMC theater chain reverses policy, will require face masks after drawing backlash

States face battle over face masks
States face battle over face masks as coronavirus cases rise 09:37

This week, AMC theaters announced plans for reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic — and one aspect immediately raised concerns. The company's "AMC Safe & Clean" plan outlines enhanced cleaning protocols and details for social distancing, but a certain preventative measure was missing from the list: mask wearing.

AMC initially said it would not require theater-goers to wear face coverings, even though public health officials say it's a crucial step to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. But after receiving backlash for that decision, AMC theaters announced on Friday that it is reversing course and will now require all guests to wear a face mask. 

In an interview with Variety on Thursday, AMC CEO and president Adam Aron explained why mask wearing was absent from the list of safety measures. "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," Aron continued. "When I go to an AMC feature, I will certainly be wearing a mask and leading by example."

Before the company reversed course, the hashtags #BoycottAMC and #AMCisCanceled started trending on Twitter, with many insisting that wearing a mask is not about politics — it is about health. 

"As an amc A Lister, I am also high risk so no mask requirement then I will have to cancel my subscription. It is not about politics but more about safety/community," tweeted AMC customer Michael Davis.

The company replied, "In areas of the country where guests are required to wear masks, AMC will abide by that ordinance and guests will be required to wear masks except while eating and drinking. Guests at other locations are strongly encouraged to wear a mask during their visit to AMC."

But in a subsequent statement on Friday, AMC said it is listening to guests and science advisors and will now require masks everywhere.

"At AMC Theatres, we think it is absolutely crucial that we listen to our guests," the statement reads. "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. The speed with which AMC moved to revise our mask policies is a reflection of our commitment to the safety and health of our guests."

Health officials — including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert — recommend wearing masks in public, along with social distancing, as an effective way to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

In some cities, wearing a mask in public is required and stores and businesses have been advised to turn away customers who don't cover their face. But other communities have left masks optional, and President Trump has avoided wearing them.

"In many states and cities, you have the leadership actually giving the right guideline instruction. But somehow, people for one reason or another, don't believe it or not fazed by it. And they go ahead and do things that are either against the guidelines that their own leadership is saying," Fauci said in an interview with CBS News Radio's Steve Portnoy on Friday.

Fauci connected it to a broader "anti-science" trend in the country, which he called "very disturbing."

He said the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to avoid crowds — and if you can't do that, "wear a mask at all times." 

"So when you see situations, when people are not doing — that they are in crowds and or they're not wearing masks when they're outside, of course, that gives us concern about the increased risk of spreading infection," Fauci said.

He also noted that in many states, infection rates are rising at a worrisome pace. "You're seeing situations that are very problematic," he said, "...places like Oklahoma, places like Arizona, places like Texas."

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