Some Walt Disney World employees will be returning to work over the weekend, in an effort to re-open the Disney Springs retail, dining, and entertainment complex. According to the Hollywood Reporter, 117 custodians will return over the weekend to prepare for a May 20 opening. By May 24, an additional round of 59 custodians will be brought back to prepare more Disney stores and restaurants in Orlando for re-opening. More than 100,000 Disney employees have been furloughed since the start of the pandemic.
Disney is preparing some enhanced safety precautions, requiring all employees and guests to wear masks, while providing workers with three washable masks. Every guest will have their temperature checked at the point of entry, and the company will also install plexiglass dividers for cash registers. That’s the power of magic!
Even with these heightened measures in place, it puts the furloughed workers in a difficult position, with daily coronavirus cases in Florida nowhere near the tally where it’d be feasible to reopen nonessential businesses. Eric Clinton, president of the Unite Here Local 362 union representing Disney staffers in Orlando, told THR that “some are anxious to get back because the unemployment system [in Florida] is completely broken.” Clinton also confirmed that Disney plans to offer up to two weeks of paid sick leave to any worker who contracts the virus, and no employee will incur discipline for missing work due to illness.
Although the peripheral retail and dining services at Disney are opening back up, it’s hard to imagine the theme parks following close behind. Universal Studios is implementing a similar plan for opening its CityWalk entertainment complex, and has announced its theme parks will be closed through at least May 31. California Governor Gavin Newsom recently indicated that Disneyland and other large theme parks wouldn’t be able to open for months under his state’s directives, although Florida has been less tentative with reopening.
Whenever that may happen, you can expect it to follow the blueprint set by Shanghai Disneyland earlier this week. On Monday, the park reopened to 30 percent capacity, requiring mandatory masks and temperature checks for both guests and workers. Plenty of dystopian photos emerged this week, highlighting a completely different sort of public gathering space. Ride lines were spaced out to some degree, cafeteria-style restaurants were nearly empty with alternating tables off-limits, and staff carried signs encouraging people to keep their distance. (If this photo’s any indication, some of these efforts weren’t entirely successful.) Given how resistant select state and federal officials have been to letting the curve actually flatten out before reopening leisure spaces, it’s not hard to imagine a theme park stateside adopting these measures — just with a far higher case count lingering underneath.
Will anyone be willing to accept inevitable public health risk for a ride on Splash Mountain? If the footage coming out of Wisconsin on Wednesday night is any indication, then there’s definitely a chance. After the state supreme court overturned Governor Tony Evers’ lockdown order, the bars were packed, with masks off, as if from an earlier time. Amusement park rides may feel like an even riskier proposition, but you can never underestimate the American freedom to get sick in a crowded public place.