It’s reopen day for Disney World, as COVID cases surge in Florida. The #DisneyWorld ride staff I spoke to feel confident about the park’s safety measures. The epidemiologist I spoke to does not. Reopening is “irresponsible” and a “terrible idea,” she said.https://t.co/9uj1pW6jND— Elaine Low (@elainelow) July 11, 2020
Disney World reopened yesterday. (Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom will lead the way, followed by Hollywood Studios and Epcot on July 15.) Promising a safer experience for the eager Disney enthusiasts clamoring to reenter after many months cooped up indoors. While several employees (“cast members,” as the company calls them) were optimistic about the precautions that the theme parks took to keep staff and guests safe, but not all Disney workers were convinced. One epidemiologist warns that reopening Disney World at this particular moment makes the park “the happiest place on Earth… for the corona virus.
Dr. Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and leader of the UCLA COVID-19 Rapid Response Initiative, says it is a “terrible idea to be opening right now,” as the number of cases are surging in Florida. The state, which as of Thursday recorded 232,718 coronavirus cases and over 4,000 deaths so far, recently extended the state of emergency for another 60 days.
Despite potential dangers to public health, there are also economic realities that workers face as the pandemic stretches into the summer. With workers struggling financially and not receiving unemployment checks. This attributed to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “lackadaisical approach” to the state’s unemployment system, whose problems and backlogs have been documented by news outlets.
Disney workers understand that some people may not feel comfortable visiting the theme parks, but they don’t have the luxury of that option. Around 20,000 of the 43,000 workers represented by their union have been called back to work, with mostly saying they feel safer at Disney than they would at a local grocery store, where not everyone wears masks, or doesn’t wear them properly.
At the parks, new health protocols are in place. New hand washing stations popped up and there is hand sanitizer everywhere. Workers responsibly socially distance at lunchtime with one person sitting solo per table.
But the conglomerate, too, has a massive economic stake in the success of reviving its global flagship theme park. For each month its parks are closed, Bernstein equity analyst Todd Juenger estimates that the financial impact to Disney is $1 billion in lost earnings before income and taxes. Last year, the company’s U.S. parks alone brought in about $4.4 billion in revenue during the June quarter.
Disney is not offering its park employees COVID-19 tests, but multiple sources say that the company-provided insurance covers testing, should cast members seek it out on their own.