June 13, 2020 -- With new social distancing measures in place, Disney World in Orlando reopened for business Saturday -- even as coronavirus cases and deaths keep going up across Florida.
The Magic Kingdom park and Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park welcomed guests on Saturday morning after two days of soft openings. EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will reopen Wednesday.
All guests will have their temperature checked, face masks are required, and hand-washing stations abound. To control the number of people in the parks, entry can only be gained by purchasing tickets in advance. Crowd-attracting events like fireworks and parades have been canceled.
“We have taken enhanced health and safety measures—for you, our other Guests, and Cast Members. You must follow all posted instructions while visiting Walt Disney World Resort,” Disney World says on its website , adding that “By visiting Walt Disney World Resort you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”
The Disney parks closed in mid-March as the coronavirus raced across the nation. The safety measures were announced in late May, even before Florida became a COVID-19 hotspot.
On Saturday, the state Department of Health reported 95 news deaths and 11,433 new positive cases in a 24-hour period. Overall, Florida has reported 244,151 cases with 4,197 deaths. South Florida is especially hard hit.
One epidemiologist says reopening during Florida’s surge in cases will make Disney World “the happiest place on Earth… for the coronavirus.”
“There are several hospitals that are running out of beds in Florida, with health workers warning that there are not going to be enough ventilators and enough rooms, and cases in the state are breaking new records daily,” Dr. Anne Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health told Variety . “Moving forward with reopening, I think, is inviting disaster.”
Tourism drives Florida’s economy and Disney leads the way. Industry leaders hope the park’s reopening will jumpstart the state economy.
“Disney’s importance to our region’s economy and global tourism appeal cannot be overstated, and we’re excited to have Orlando’s No. 1 employer officially back in the game,” the VisitOrlando website said.
Two Orlando-area tourism attractions, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld, reopened last month. Orange County Health Department Director Raul Pino said there have been no major outbreaks from those reopenings.
“I would be lying to say that we have not seen a case here and there that mention one of the parks. But we have not seen an outbreak in any of the parks that are open so far that we are aware of, and we have searched for it ... we have not found it,” Pino said at a news conference.