'Disney World is the guinea pig': All eyes are on theme park following its reopening in Florida

Following months of closing its gates to visitors due to the coronavirus pandemic, Disney World reopened in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday to mixed reactions. Some seemed thrilled on social media that the Happiest Place on Earth was open again, while others were panicked about what this could mean for the spread of COVID-19.

The reopening comes as cases of the virus continue to spike in Florida — the state saw a record 15,283 new cases on Saturday, according to data shared by the Florida Department of Health. In Orange County, where Disney World is located, there were 8,672 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days, according to local government data from Thursday.

But the reopening of Disney World also raises questions about what will happen with California’s Disneyland in Anaheim. According to data released by the California Department of Public Health, the state has seen a seven-day average of 8,664 new cases of COVID-19 per day. In Orange County, where Disneyland is located, there were 969 new cases on Sunday, according to local government data.

Video: Disney World reopens amid Florida’s virus surge

The California theme park’s Downtown Disney District began a phased reopening on July 9. However, the hotels of the Disneyland Resort are still closed and will reopen at a later day, according to the official Disneyland website. “Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park remain closed and will reopen at a later date, pending state and local government approvals,” the site says. A Disney spokesperson also told Yahoo Life that the resort would share more details on reopening plans in the future.

Disneyland originally had a planned reopening date of July 17 but postponed the date in late June after the state of California decided that it would not issue theme park reopening guidelines until after July 4. “Given the time required for us to bring thousands of cast members back to work and restart our business, we have no choice but to delay the reopenings of our theme parks and resort hotels until we receive approval from government officials,” the theme park said in a statement at the time.

Hong Kong Disneyland announced Monday that it is temporarily closing, just a month after reopening, to meet the government's recently announced social distancing rules. The closure comes after the city saw 50 new coronavirus cases.

Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort
Visitors at Walt Disney World Resort on Saturday. (Kent Phillips/Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images)

Should Disneyland take a wait and see approach with Disney World’s reopening?

According to COVID-19 data released by the Los Angeles Times, all nonessential public gatherings are currently prohibited in Orange County. Disneyland is not allowed to open even if its organizers want to.

However, people involved with Disneyland are keeping tabs on what’s happening with Disney World. “We are definitely looking at Disney World,” Christopher Duarte, president of Workers United Local 50, a labor union that works with Disney employees, told Yahoo Life. “Essentially, Disney World is the guinea pig on how this is all going to work. It’s no longer a theory of whether they can enforce social distancing, are they going to follow the rules, or who will enforce the rules — it’s happening.”

Doctors say it’s practical on some level for Disneyland to wait and see what happens with Disney World first. “Since they are in different states, there are different dynamics to take into account, Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Yahoo Life. “But I do think it makes sense to see how one park handles itself in this environment.”

But Dr. Richard Watkins, a professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University, told Yahoo Life that he isn’t impressed with either theme park being open. “Infections are surging in California and Florida. Could Disney show how little they actually care about people any better than opening their parks?” he asks. “I guess the millions they make with other stuff just isn’t enough.”

Dr. Eric Adkins, an emergency medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Yahoo Life that it’s important for businesses — including Disney resorts — to pay attention to local and state epidemiological data, as well as to government regulations. Adkins applauds Disney for requiring masks and enacting social distancing measures but says people need to be socially responsible and consider their own situation. “An 80-year-old with lung disease or heart failure — there’s no way,” he says. “Even if you fit into a lower-risk population, you can’t be cavalier about going out.”

According to Duarte, some Disneyland employees are nervous after seeing video on Twitter of people crowded into a Downtown Disney store.

“There is definitely some hesitancy about reopening, especially seeing how chaotic it was at some points over the grand opening of Downtown Disney,” he says. “Though everyone is wearing masks, guests were on top of each other, and there was no social distancing whatsoever. If they’re on top of each other to grab a sweater, what are they going to do in the resort? It creates this grand hesitancy of what it’s going to be like.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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