Amid tensions over COVID-19 restrictions, Disney World brings back mask requirements

As COVID-19 continues to surge within the U.S., one health care worker shared her thoughts on visiting theme parks amid the ongoing pandemic.
Courtesy of | Joe Burbank

By Madison Jackson

USFSP Student Reporter

One of the happiest places on Earth also can’t seem to ignore the world is still dealing with a pandemic.

Walt Disney World decided in June to again require face coverings indoors, regardless if they are vaccinated. However, wearing a face covering in an outside setting remains optional but encouraged in crowded areas.

“As we have done since reopening, we’ve been very intentional and gradual in our approach to our COVID-19 health and safety protocols,” Disney mentioned in a previous statement, also adding, “We encourage people to get vaccinated.”

Disney’s policies were updated to reflect ongoing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of the new health and safety protocols at Disney include:

● Face coverings are required for all guests (ages 2 and up) in all indoor locations, regardless of vaccination status.
● Easy access to handwashing facilities and hand sanitizer dispensers.
● Limited availability within each of the theme parks, as managed by a park reservation system.

While some still debate the COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC and other health leaders around the world continue to advocate for everyone who can get the shot to slow the spread of coronavirus. The first COVID-19 vaccine to get full FDA approval was from Pfizer-BioNTech, which was originally allowed under an emergency use authorization.

Still, only about 53.2% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and about 53.2% of Floridians are fully vaccinated, according to the World Health Organization and data from the Florida Department of Health.

As cases in the United States and in Florida continue to rise, especially that of the highly contagious delta variant, the CDC and other world health leaders say it is more important now than ever to keep social distancing and wearing face coverings even if you are fully vaccinated.

The surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to the delta variant has weighed especially heavy on front-line health care workers.

“It has become incredibly stressful at work. I literally go to work all day, sleep a few hours, and then go back,” said Gina Finch, a frontline worker at Baycare Mease Countryside Hospital in Clearwater. “Especially because we are worried about a new surge of cases due to the summer break and with children going back to school … I strongly urge everyone to get vaccinated.”

While dealing with the overwhelming surge of COVID-19 cases as a health professional, Finch is also a Disney lover and has been a Disney World pass holder for a few years. She expressed uncertainty about the safety of visiting theme parks because of the high potential for large crowds.

“I love Disney World as much as anyone else and I definitely try to go there when I can,” she said. “However, I don’t know if now is that great of a time to be enjoying large gatherings like a theme park. Personally, I haven’t gone since the new spike in cases. This virus is dangerous, and people need to wake up and realize this is all real and shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

Florida, currently, is a huge hot spot for rising COVID-19 cases. Because of this, Florida has also become a political battleground over what kind of restrictions should be in place, especially within private companies and in schools.

Recently, the mayor of Orange County, where Disney World is located, announced an executive order declaring a state of local emergency in response to a surge in cases. Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis remains opposed to mandating many restrictions related to the pandemic.

“I think that those who are fully vaccinated are probably okay going to Disney. Do I think it’s completely safe? No. But as long as everyone who is vaccinated continues to protect themselves by washing their hands, social distancing, and wearing a mask are most likely okay. I don’t think unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people should be going there, but I guess it’s their choice. To me, it just seems too risky,” Finch said.

Finch advised people to be more cautious as the number of cases continues to tick up. While many want to get back to a sense of normalcy, Finch said “acting like everything is back to normal is just not helping.”

“Our hospitals are filling up with patients quickly. Just the other day we had a 17-year-old who was doing okay at first, but we had to airlift him to another hospital because he wasn’t able to breathe,” she said.

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