Disney World Is Still Reopening This Weekend as Florida's Covid-19 Cases Skyrocket

People holding signs in front of Anaheim’s Disneyland as part of a cast member unions protest against reopening without on-demand covid-19 testing.
People holding signs in front of Anaheim’s Disneyland as part of a cast member unions protest against reopening without on-demand covid-19 testing.
Photo: Apu Gomes/AFP (Getty Images)

Florida is nearing a breaking point. The novel coronavirus pandemic has surged across the state, passing 200,000 cases over the July 4 weekend. However, that hasn’t stopped Florida leaders from defending Disney’s decision to reopen Disney World Resorts, calling it a “safe environment” for park guests—even though Florida is anything but.

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Disney World in Orlando, Florida opened its gates Monday for a cast member preview of the post-pandemic parks, in anticipation of its official reopening this weekend. Things look a lot different this time around. Select queues and rides are lined with plastic shields, Disney characters are doing socially distant ride-alongs instead of in-person visits, and anyone without a mask can’t get in (unless they buy one from a convenient nearby dispenser).

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In a press conference on Monday, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said he was “fairly comfortable” with the plan, emphasizing the importance of getting the economy moving but noting they’re going to keep an eye on things.

“We have to try to get our economy stimulated, but we don’t want to do that at the expense of risking people’s safety,” Demings said. “We’ll just have to monitor [the situation] going forward.”

It’s clear Disney is trying to make the parks safer (even as cast members—what Disney calls park employees—have raised concerns about the lack of on-demand coronavirus testing and other safety issues). But it doesn’t change the fact that thousands of Floridians are being infected by the coronavirus every day, with July 4 seeing a record of over 11,000 new cases. The state is in the middle of a surge, and there are worries it’s going to continue to escalate so long as Florida Governor Rick DeSantis’ administration refuses to issue statewide shutdowns or a mask mandate. Orange County, where Disney World Resorts are located, has its own mask requirement.

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Instead, DeSantis is choosing to simply say that everything is going to be okay. In a coronavirus press briefing on Monday, he said he has “no doubt” that Disney World is going to be safe for park guests, despite the rising cases.

“We have to have society function. You can have society function in a way that keeps people safe. And when you have all of the different procedures that they have in place, people are going to be—it’s a safe environment,” DeSantis said. “Disney, I have no doubt is going to be a safe environment. I think that where you start to see the spread is just in social situations where people let their guard down. Usually like a private party or something like that. So that’s kind of what we’ve seen. But I think that the folks that put a premium on safety, that’s showing you that, you know, we’re able to handle this.”

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Disney has made it clear that they’re pushing for mask compliance in the parks and nearby Disney Springs shopping center which opened May 20. The company is employing a special staff of yellow shirt-wearing cast members dedicated to educating guests about safety regulations while urging guests to comply. Plenty of guests have praised compliance at the parks, but there have been reports out of Disney Springs of people refusing to wear masks. Plus, Disney park employees previously told io9 they’re worried it’d be easy for guests in the parks to eventually behave badly once they feel comfortable enough.

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure have yet to announce a new opening day for the parks after delaying its initial reopening, as California Governor Gavin Newsom has not yet issued requirements for theme parks in the state. Every other Disney park in the world has either opened, with Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea being the latest on July 1, or has plans to in the coming weeks. But those are largely in countries that have gotten the novel coronavirus pandemic under control. That is not happening in the U.S.

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If you’re a Disney World cast member who’d like to anonymously share their experience as the park is reopening, you can email me (beth.elderkin@gizmodo.com) or contact io9 securely and anonymously using our SecureDrop system.

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For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.

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Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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DISCUSSION

Ron DeSantis is really hoping to kill off most of Florida before he has to face another election, isn’t he?