The real reason AMC reversed its face mask policy

For most of us, it's going to take a lot to feel safe in public spaces again in a post-COVID 19 world, but it should come at no surprise that companies are already trying to get us there. AMC will reopen 450 of its over 600 venues on July 15th, and aims to be fully operational by the end of July after nearly four months of closure due to the coronavirus (via Today). This reopening will not be without its restrictions, however. Theaters will be reducing their capacity in phases and staggering seating to allow for social distancing, not to mention setting up hand sanitizing stations and encouraging contact-free payment and ticketing from customers.

Surprisingly, despite partnering with Clorox and faculty from Harvard University's School of Public Health, there was one precaution not being taken by the world's largest movie chain: They had decided not to require, only strongly encourage, masks (according to The Hollywood Reporter). While it might seem like a simpler change to make than "deploying electrostatic sprayers, HEPA vacuums and upgraded MERV 13 ventilation filters [to] eliminate airborne particles" (via Variety), AMC's initial reopen policy would only require face masks from employees, not customers (except in areas with general face mask ordinances; but even then masks may be removed "when eating and drinking," which could technically be the whole movie!). However, just one day after the announcement, AMC reversed that decision. 

AMC Theaters about-face on face masks

It seems that the company's motivation for the reversal was the same as their reason for the initial policy: simply to avoid criticism. When speaking to Variety about the masks-not-required decision, AMC CEO Adam Aron had said: "We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy. 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." 

However, public opinion proved overwhelmingly against this hedged decision. According to an updated article by The Hollywood Reporter, Aron's remarks created a stir on social media, causing the company to decide to change course. Again the company hedged slightly, writing in its new statement: "That policy on guest mask usage, which is directly comparable with our major competitors and many other highly regarded retailers ... 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." Whether this policy change and reopening strategy are successful in the long term keeping theater-goers safe, or in the short term making them feel safe enough to return to the movies, both remain to be seen.