“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
A number of companies have said that masks will not be required when their locations reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, but few have seen the backlash that AMC faced overnight after its CEO said its 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.
Representatives for AMC did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
AMC will require its employees to wear masks and have their temperature taken before arriving to work, but customers will not have to wear a mask at the cinema unless their state or local government has regulations in place that require masks. The company will sell masks for a dollar to guests that forgot to bring one.
“The word that comes to mind is, irresponsible,” Doug Stone, president of Box Office Analyst, said. “Personally, I would not go to a theater right now if masks were not required.”
Cinemark and Regal, similarly, are encouraging guests to wear mask, but not making it a requirement for entry, unless it is mandated by local health officials.
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.
While AMC’s shares were up slightly on Friday, the stock is down 20% since January.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.