Disney, Busch Gardens and other theme parks drop temperature screenings

·3 min read

Florida’s theme parks are starting to ease up on pandemic safety measures put in place when they reopened last summer, including temperature screenings and social distancing in outdoor spaces.

Face masks are still required and crowds are being limited, but Universal, Disney, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens have all announced they will stop screening visitors for temperature before entry. Last month, Dr. Raul Pino, who heads the Florida Department of Health office in Orange County, said he didn’t think the practice was necessary.

“The Department of Health is not recommending temperature checks as they waste resources on something that doesn’t necessarily prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Rino tweeted on April 30.

Soon after, Walt Disney World announced that it would phase out temperature screenings starting with its workers on Saturday, followed by guests on May 16.

“We will continue to follow the guidance of health and safety leaders going forward and most importantly encourage people to get vaccinated,” Disney said in a statement.

Temperature checks have been so inconsistent and needlessly time-consuming that even Dr. Anthony Fauci doesn’t get his checked anymore before he heads into the White House or his office at the National Institutes of Health.

“We have found at the National Institutes of Health that it is much, much better to just question people when they come in and save the time, because the temperatures are notoriously inaccurate many times,” Fauci said last August at an event aired on YouTube with the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Public health officials worry that temperature checks create a false sense of security. A person’s temperature, even when taken accurately, isn’t always an indication of early coronavirus infection and often won’t tell you that someone is ill when they’re at their most contagious stage.

“Keep in mind that 60 percent of the cases are asymptomatic, so you would be missing the bulk of them anyway,” said Dr. Jay Wolfson, professor of public health at the University of South Florida. “Plus, even symptomatic cases do not always result in fever.”

Thermometer screenings and excessive surface cleaning have been likened to a piece of pandemic security theater that could be encouraging people to hang out indoors when they shouldn’t.

The first couple days of a COVID-19 illness, when a person is at their most infectious, often don’t include a fever. This is why doctors say people around the world have gotten sick after attending indoor gatherings at bars, churches and nursing homes.

Temperature measurements could miss more than half of all infected people, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in June. It has taken months for this advice to take effect as organizations struggle to keep up with shifting advice.

On Thursday, Busch Gardens and parent company SeaWorld Entertainment announced it too was dropping the temperature checks and changing its social distancing requirements in some areas of the parks.

“Our guidelines have been updated to remove temperature screenings for our guests, and we continue to operate with enhanced health and safety measures, including limited capacity, reservations, physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and sanitation procedures, and face covering requirements,” a Busch Gardens statement said.

Busch Gardens said physical distancing rules are also getting changed.

“We will be altering physical distancing protocols in certain locations within the parks from six to three feet,” Busch Gardens announced, saying the change will be in open-air environments. “The additional space will allow more access to venues, while giving guests the opportunity to maintain appropriate physical distancing.”