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SYFY WIRE coronavirus

Drafthouse, AMC, Regal announce new mask requirements as theaters reopen

By Matthew Jackson
AMC theaters

As movie theater chains gear up for reopenings around the country next month, several major companies announced new and revised mask policies on Friday after one major chain saw public pushback to their initial coronavirus prevention plan. 

This particular stage of the movie theater reopening news cycle can be traced back to Thursday evening, when AMC Theatres announced its plan to reopen next month with various safety measures, like reduced seating capacity and frequent sanitizing in place, but without a policy that required all guests to wear masks. When asked about the decision, AMC CEO Adam Aron told Variety that his company "did not want to be drawn into a political controversy" over masks, and added that he believed "the vast majority" of theater guests would still wear them.

The decision drew immediate backlash on social media, where theatergoers, film critics, and filmmakers alike declared they would refuse to go to AMC locations without mandatory mask policies, and objected to the characterization of mask-wearing (a public health measure that has been shown to significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19) as a "political" issue. On Friday, AMC reversed course and changed its policy to make masks mandatory for all theater guests and staff. 

AMC's decision to change course came shortly after a competing theater chain, Alamo Drafthouse, announced that its still-pending reopening would include a mandatory mask policy, with an exception made for guests who are eating or drinking. 

After AMC updated its policy, Regal Cinemas also announced that it would update its own reopening plan — which had previously not made masks mandatory — to include mandatory mask-wearing. 

At the same time that AMC and Regal were updating their policies to make masks required, competing chain Cinemark released more information about its own reopening plan, and noted that while masks would be "recommended," they would only be required in areas where mask-wearing is mandated by local authorities.

Though the World Health Organization warned Friday that cases of COVID-19 are on the rise around the world, theater chains are moving ahead with plans to reopen with safety measures in place in July to accommodate the releases of films like Tenet and Disney's Mulan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a face covering in public settings, in addition to maintaining social distancing.