Americans have been starving for traditional forms of entertainment — like in-theater movies and sports — since the lockdowns inspired by the coronavirus pandemic brought many traditional recreational activities to a halt in late March. However, one sign that things may slowly be returning to normal is that the nation’s largest movie theater chain, AMC Theatres, plans to have most of its theaters open by July 15.
According to Variety, AMC plans to resume operations in 450 of its 600 theaters on July 15, and plans to be fully operational by the end of July. The company announced that it will reduce seating capacity in order to encourage social distancing and rework its cleaning procedures. The chain also stated that it plans to have hand-sanitizing stations throughout the theater and will have more contact-free concessions.
AMC CEO Adam Aron insisted that the company would be ready to reopen, and wasn’t basing their decision on a crunch for funding, telling Variety, “We didn’t rush to reopen. There were some jurisdictions in some states, such as Georgia and Texas, that allowed people to reopen theaters in mid-May. We opted to remain closed, so we could give the country time to get a better handle on coronavirus. We wanted to use this time to figure out how best to open and how to do so safely.”
While many will welcome the return of movie theaters as part of a sense of a return of normalcy, others have been highly critical of AMC’s decision to announce that they will not require customers to wear masks, although employees will be required to do so.
“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 also announced that AMC will sell masks for a $1 at the door for customers who forgot to bring one.
AMC’s largest competitors, Cinemark and Regal, will also not require customers to wear masks.
The news was met with consternation by some, particularly liberals.
The use of face masks and their requirement within the context of the coronavirus pandemic has been a controversial issue. The CDC recommends the use (after fluctuating on the issue), but the WHO still does not recommend the “widespread” use in public settings among healthy people. As more Americans resume their daily activities, the hot button issue of mask usage is likely to gain even more political significance.