How Well Did Disney Respond to Coronavirus?
Disney lovers have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. The announcement of the phased reopening of Walt Disney World hints that the worst is over.
Sadly, one question looms over the entire COVID-19 pandemic. How well did Disney respond to Coronavirus? Read on for a surprising answer…
About the Evaluation
Any discussion of Coronavirus requires a few acknowledgements. The important one is that old chestnut about hindsight being 20/20.
Even after Shanghai Disneyland closed on January 25th, Americans still didn’t take COVID-19 seriously. Many outlets dismissed the disease as unlikely to reach our shores.
Later, as infection totals rose to uncomfortable levels in this country, many public officials dismissed the danger.
As such, Disney’s management team didn’t have the most accurate feedback regarding how to proceed.
So, the conclusions that we draw here require the benefit of the doubt.
Did Park Officials Take Proper Measures While Still Open?
Overall, I believe that Disney did the best that it could in February and early March. Park officials monitored the same sites that everyone else did during this timeframe.
For a while, Coronavirus seemed under control. Then, the bottom fell out as multiple outbreaks occurred across the country.
Disney reacted with several appropriate measures. The parks introduced hand sanitizer stations and even added their locations to My Disney Experience.
This tactic allowed guests to find the closest location to cleanse their hands. The parks even added portable stations to give people more opportunities to kill germs.
Cast members also wiped down surfaces more than ever before. Disney emphasized disinfection after liaising with healthcare officials.
However, I still must ding Disney for the lack of social distancing. Disneyland and Walt Disney World closed on March 14th and March 16th.
The world imploded on March 11th, the day that Rudy Gobert and Tom Hanks both came down with COVID-19.
Roughly 72 hours later, pictures and videos showed a mob of people celebrating the last few minutes at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Two days later, history repeated itself at Walt Disney World.
I’m a Disney fanatic, and I watch plenty of park videos each week. Still, even I cringed as people crowded around the new President of Walt Disney World.
We all knew not to do that by the point when it happened. On social media, Disney took a drubbing over these incidents. For once, the critics were right.
Park officials can and should have done better to prevent this PR nightmare/health risk.
Did Disney Parks Close in Time?
If I had written this article a month ago, I would have answered this question differently.
After the events of March 11th, I believed that Disney parks should have closed immediately. However, I’ve since spoken to many executives in various industries.
All of them have acknowledged the unprecedented difficulty in their businesses coming to a full stop. There’s just no training for that sort of cataclysmic change.
At the parks, officials contacted the CDC and other health experts almost immediately after Coronavirus struck in China.
Disney’s upper management has known for a while that its American parks might need to close. Experts informed them of the parameters that would dictate a shutdown.
Realistically, Disney didn’t hit the most significant of these markers until that fateful night, March 11th.
Afterward, the company announced the closure of both its American parks over the following five days.
All things considered, that’s a reasonable response time.
Businesses with less financial gains clung to daily operations much longer. These places jeopardized the safety of employees for a buck.
Disney went the other way, which is commendable.
Did Disney Learn from Its International Parks?
I hinted at this a moment ago. Disney’s Chinese parks closed on January 25th and January 26th. Tokyo Disneyland followed suit on Leap Day, February 29th.
With each closure, Bob Iger and his successor, Bob Chapek, felt the walls closing in a bit more. They both knew that a severe outbreak could shut down the American parks.
Some of the measures I mentioned earlier were possible because of Disney’s learning curve. The global nature of the company’s operations allowed Iger and Chapek to prepare for the worst.
Obviously, the two men didn’t do their jobs perfectly. Then again, who has done so during the pandemic?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost respect for a lot of public officials, celebrities, and business leaders during the outbreak.
Conversely, I feel better about Disney after watching Iger and Chapek’s response to an impossible situation.
Some have speculated that Iger promoted Chapek as a way to avoid blame here and effectively throw the new CEO under the bus.
Recently, smart people have realized something entirely different. Iger viewed himself as a peacetime leader; he knew that Disney needed someone else during the crisis.
Chapek has functioned as a wartime consigliere and an efficient one. We can see this from the fact that Disney’s liquidity isn’t in question.
Several established companies have declared bankruptcy already, while others are on teetering on the brink. Meanwhile, Disney’s earnings call felt surprisingly positive.
Chapek and Iger sustained the company because of what they watched unfold in China and Japan. They knew that Disneyland and Walt Disney World were likely to close.
So, Disney’s executives took the appropriate steps to prepare for financial carnage. Simultaneously, Disney protects its guests better than most. To wit…
How Well Did Disney Respond to Coronavirus?
The Orlando Sentinel recently published a story with an interesting premise. The article questions why Central Florida didn’t suffer more infections.
This piece speaks volumes about how well Disney did overall. Here’s an important fact:
“Orange County is better off than every other major population center in Florida, according to health metrics tracked by the state.”
The reason why America has been hit the hardest comes down to the governmental structure.
Federal, state, and local officials all claim some legislative power. During a pandemic, this system of checks and balances frays a bit.
Had Disney waited for a federal or state declaration on a stay-at-home order, the parks could have remained open longer.
After all, California wouldn’t have closed down Disneyland until March 19th. At Walt Disney World, the park would have remained open until April 3rd.
We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that Disney ceded to do the right thing.
Had other officials acted as responsibly, Coronavirus statistics would be much more reasonable/less depressing.
Other parts of the state support this notion. South Florida has suffered mightily. A quicker stay-at-home order likely would have prevented at least some of these infections.
So, Disney officials look substantially smarter – and maybe a bit luckier – than most people in charge of public safety/health.
I honestly don’t think we could reasonably expect a better response than that.