As Walt Disney World prepares to reopen Saturday, Florida has recorded the largest weekly increase in coronavirus cases in the country.
In the past seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state has added nearly 67,000 cases. There are more than 206,000 cases statewide, according to the Florida Department of Health, making the Sunshine State a coronavirus hot spot.
Orlando, about 30 minutes northeast of Disney World, has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in Florida behind Miami. Monday, Miami began rolling back its reopening. Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez halted dine-in services at restaurants and closed gyms, party venues and short-term rentals.
Disney delayed its July 17 reopening of Disneyland in California, in part because that state, too, has seen a surge in coronavirus cases.
Not so fast, Mickey: Disneyland delays reopening of California theme parks, hotels past July 17
For Disney World, the reopening remains on schedule for this weekend.
“I have no doubt it’s going to be a safe environment,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday at a news conference.
Masks are mandatory at all parks now, except when eating, as are temperature checks. Hand-sanitizing stations are sprinkled throughout the park. Signage stressing safety, social distancing and mandatory mask-wearing are everywhere from walls to trashcans and on tables. The parks will also be limiting crowd capacity, though no specifics are yet available.
In many cases, park employees (cast members in Disney parlance) many cases will wear protective face shields, while all will wear masks and enforce the social-distancing requirements.
The union that represents hundreds of stage actors who work at Disney World isn’t as confident.
“I can’t imagine that anyone thinks it’s wise to reopen a theme park this week,” Kate Shindle, president of the Actors Equity Association, told USA TODAY.
JosephKhabbaza, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, said the park should be safe for visitors if people keep their distance from others, wash their hands and use hand sanitizer, don’t touch their faces often and wear a face mask.
That, he said, would depend on compliance and enforcement.
“The spreading is really occurring where people are standing shoulder to shoulder,” Khabbaza said. “Things can be enforced on a resort.”
“Disney, I think, is in a very different position,” he said – its house, its rules.
A Disney spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Disney World announced in late May that it would reopen its Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, followed by Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios on July 15.
The jump in coronavirus cases came in the weeks since Disney made its announcement.
Disney World is also hosting the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer as the sports leagues try to get their seasons back on track.
NBA sets up camp at Disney World: Players will be able to experience perks like Expedition Everest, golf courses and boating trips
Carlos Vela of the Los Angeles Football Club announced on Twitter Monday that he would not travel to Orlando for any games.
“It is in the best interest of the health of my family to stay home and be with my wife during what is a risky pregnancy,” Vela tweeted. “I will miss being with my teammates and coaches, but I will be cheering and supporting LAFC from a distance.”
Disney is taking precautions at the park, requiring temperature checks and face masks for visitors over the age of 2 and employees. A squad of cast members will enforce social distancing and the mask requirement. Disney canceled fireworks, parades, meet-and-greets and other activities that would encourage large gatherings. The park will operate below capacity, though Disney has not provided specific numbers or percentages. (When the company reopened its first park in Shanghai, China, in May, CEO Bob Chapek said it would limit visitors to less than 30% of capacity, or 24,000.)
The Actors Equity Association wants Disney to test the stage actors it represents.
“We are still advocating aggressively for our members to have testing as a part of their return to work,” Shindle said.
Shindle cited the death of Broadway actor Nick Cordero on Sunday as an example of the devastating impact of the virus. Cordero, 41, had been hospitalized since March, had one leg amputated because of blood clots and battled infection in both lungs.
More on Nick Cordero: Broadway star dies at 41 after coronavirus struggle highlighted by wife Amanda Kloots
Coronavirus can leave survivors with permanent lung damage.
“This is not a disease to be taken lightly,” Shindle said. “It can have a long-term effect on making your living as a performer, even if you are lucky enough to survive.”
Khabbaza, who treats coronavirus patients, said anyone on Disney property, whether actors, athletes or visitors, should be fine as long as they follow the guidelines and Disney enforces them.
“All it takes is one Disney-centered outbreak or cluster to start before they have to shut down,” he warned.