The theme park division of the Walt Disney Company has taken a major hit thanks to COVID-19, with billions upon billions of dollars lost, and no definitive end in sight. As of this writing, only three of its worldwide parks, Walt Disney World in Florida, Tokyo Disneyland, and Shanghai Disneyland, are open. All of their other parks – Disneyland in California, Hong Kong Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, are currently closed due to the virus.
Walt Disney World, located in Central Florida, closed in March and reopened in July (some fans were upset about the reopening, but for all the wrong reasons). Although they rarely give out exact numbers, “word on the street” was that they opened at 25% capacity. Of course, they don’t give exact numbers for capacity, either. But think wall-to-wall people, and they don’t let anyone else in. That’s capacity. This is what “capacity” looks like on a typical Christmas or New Year’s Eve (the meme was made by a friend of ours who, coincidentally enough, also helped us design our YMMV logo. Thanks for letting us repost this here, Dawn O.!):
Even with 25% capacity, it was suggested that WDW was still losing money – just less than if it was closed (even if a theme park is closed, they still have bills to pay – security guards to keep the place safe [although this wound up happening anyway – here’s the aftermath of that fiasco], people have to feed the animals at Animal Kingdom, etc.). And you could tell that even though they were cutting corners every way possible, they were still hurting. When this happened, that was the most telling of all.
In November, multiple publications reported that WDW was increasing its capacity to 35%. So take that picture above, and imagine about 1/3 of the people are there. So yeah, it’s not wall-to-wall people but it’s still pretty crowded. And, of course, the bigger the crowds, the higher the chances of spreading coronavirus.
WDW has mandated a respectable amount of precautions to mitigate exposure to COVID (although I personally think Universal does it a tiny little better – here’s our comparison of the two):
- The aforementioned attendance caps.
- A mask requirement is in place for all employees and guests age 2 and over.
- You’re only supposed to eat or drink (read: mask off) if you’re off to the side or sitting at a table.
- There are hand washing stations spread throughout the parks.
- There are hand sanitizers at the beginning and end of each attraction/ride.
- They’ve reconfigured multiple areas and aspects of the parks to maximize social distancing.
- They’ve closed nearly every indoor live show on property (and laid off nearly 800 professional entertainers in the process) (this was, obviously, also a cost cutting measure).
So with all of these precautions on top of current capacity limits, how easy is it to catch COVID at WDW?
Well, there’s a problem with being able to answer that, because there are too many factors and unknowns. Here are some of them:
Varying incubation period
COVID’s incubation period (the time between when you get the virus and start to show symptoms) varies from person to person. Some start showing symptoms in 2 days, others in 14. So who’s to say if you caught COVID when you were trying on clothes in the poorly ventilated dressing room of that clothing store 2 days before your trip, or if you got it during your meal at Tony’s Town Square at Magic Kingdom, or was it at your cousin’s birthday party a week after you got home?
Asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people
Besides not knowing when you caught COVID, you may not know if you have COVID, or if the person next to you, who isn’t the best at mask use or social distancing, has it. That’s because although some people with COVID wind up hospitalized, others can have absolutely no symptoms whatsoever (“asymptomatic”) or might have the virus and just aren’t showing symptoms yet (“pre-symptomatic”). Either way, how can you say if you have the virus, or that stranger gave it to you, when there aren’t any symptoms present? (but even with no symptoms, you can pass that virus along to others. And if one of those people happen to be your grandma Betsy, age 83, and with diabetes, who also went to your cousin’s birthday party, she could wind up dying from it.) So you could have gotten it at WDW (or the clothing store, or the party) and never known it – but you can still pass it on.
Lack of contact tracing
Although it’s been announced that Delta Air Lines is just starting to partner with the CDC for better contact tracing, the U.S. currently has no federally-based contact tracing program in place. States do, but it’s a patchwork of in-house, partnering and contacted agencies. For most of them, it’s nowhere near adequate for how many cases our country currently has, and the tracers don’t appear to go out of state lines.
If a Disney employee got sick
This is just conjecture on my part, but if Disney employees were catching COVID, do you really think WDW would let that info get out? I mean, it could – but I’d bet anything Disney would do its best to keep that as quiet as humanly possible.
Based on my research…
I looked and looked and saw no one who has been definitively determined to have gotten COVID at WDW. I did find this article from the New York Times that suggests COVID at WDW is not a problem. Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County has also reported that no cases of COVID have been definitively traced to the Orlando theme parks.
But really, between the varying incubation period, lack of adequate contact tracing and some people being asymptomatic, how could anyone say for sure, short of anecdotally?
As for Disney employees being sick, well, I did find this article that suggests Disney employees are indeed catching the virus and it’s being covered up. So there ya go.
So how easy is it to catch COVID at WDW?
Frankly, I don’t think anyone knows. Or would be able to know. And I think the powers that be at Walt Disney World are well aware of that. As long as WDW isn’t deemed a superspreader, they’ll stay open and incrementally increase capacity since that increases their revenue.
And if there truly hasn’t been any (or at least no more than a few) cases of people contracting coronavirus at WDW, with an 80-90% compliance rate of mask-wearing, on top of all the other safety procedures they’ve put into place, that’s a perfect example that such things really do work.
Feature Photo (cropped): Clément Bardot / Wikimedia
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary