Walt Disney World is reopening this weekend, despite the fact that Florida is now the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Disney released a video on Wednesday meant to reassure guests they’re taking stringent health and safety precautions in the parks. But the shots of employees in masks and face shields sanitizing giant teacups and enforcing social distancing is hardly comforting — it’s terrifying. At a time when “the most magical place on Earth” is smack-dab in the middle of one of the potentially deadliest places on Earth, who in their right mind would go to Disney World right now?
Florida reported nearly 10,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday alone. And according to medical experts like former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, the US is likely only identifying one-in-ten new coronavirus cases. That means there were probably more like 100,000 new infections in the Sunshine State yesterday. Alarmingly, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — who has consistently downplayed the threat of coronavirus — seems completely nonplussed. “There’s no need to be fearful,” DeSantis told his constituents on Monday.
Disney is doing its best to downplay the threat, too. Its reopening video tugs at the heartstrings, with cinematic shots of empty park attractions, waiting to be filled with happy families. Coaster cars zoom by, devoid of passengers. The next shot shows an attendant in a face shield dutifully wiping down a lap bar and headrest. Another park employee in a mask sprays down a sidewalk, and a group of Animal Kingdom greeters in safari duds and matching cloth masks practice spacing themselves six feet apart.
Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom parks will reopen on July 11, with its other two properties, Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios, opening their gates on July 15. The Mouse is actually the last of Florida’s major theme parks to reopen after initially shutting down in March to curb the spread of coronavirus. Orlando’s Universal Studios and SeaWorld have been back in business for several weeks already. Notably, Disneyland in California planned to reopen on July 17 but scrapped that date indefinitely, pending state guidelines.
Park employees are the folks who’ll bear the brunt of the risk as Disney reopens. The union that represents Disney World actors wishes the Florida parks would follow the lead of California and stay closed until workers can be tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis. Unlike other Disney employees, singers and actors can’t wear face masks when they perform. Brandon Lorenz, a spokesman for Actors' Equity Association, told the Associated Press that for the parks to safely reopen, "the epidemic must be under control with contact tracing [...] and that is not the case in Florida. We don't believe the workplace plan is safe. It has risks not just for the workers but for the guests."
But Disney execs seemed confident in their ability to operate the parks safely. “This is our new normal. Our new reality,” Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park chairman, told The New York Times. “The world is changing around us, but we strongly believe that we can open safely and responsibly. For those that might have questions or concerns, when they see how we are operating and the aggressive protocols that we have put in place, they will understand.”