Should Walt Disney World’s Parks Still Reopen on July 11th?
Back in March, I wrote about the Coronavirus outbreak and analyzed how the situation had played out in other parts of the world.
The places that took the pandemic seriously suffered from its events for 6-8 weeks.
The United States has entered week 12, and we just experienced the worst two days ever on June 26th and June 29th.
Americans haven’t flattened the curve as everyone expected, which places The Walt Disney Company in an awkward position.
Other theme parks have returned, but Disney’s American parks haven’t yet.
These conflicting events lead to a question, one worth exploring. Should Walt Disney World reopen as planned?
Disney Park Status
Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland have reopened without incident. Disney has also announced the return of Disneyland Paris on July 15th.\
While Disney doesn’t decide for Tokyo Disneyland, The Oriental Land Company has confirmed that both its parks will reopen on July 1st.
Bob Chapek and Bob Iger, the heads of Disney, had settled on Disneyland’s triumphant return, too.
The original plan called for the Happiest Place on Earth to come back on July 17th, its 65th anniversary.
Unfortunately, multiple Coronavirus outbreaks have created concerns about theme park reopening plans in California.
State officials chose to delay the release of the governing rules about park reopening operations until after July 4th.
Disney couldn’t have possibly trained its employees on the new Coronavirus safety measures in less than two weeks. So, Disneyland got delayed.
In other words, California political officials came up with a way to prevent Disneyland from reopening.
However, they did so in a way that prevented anyone from having to say it.
Later, the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, complimented Disney for its understanding.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom is publicly complimenting Disney on their decision to hold off on reopening Disneyland next month as planned: “This is an example of the data informing the decision making, and that is exactly what we need to be doing moving forward.”
— Natasha Chen (@NatashaChenCNN) June 25, 2020
The situation unfolded so politely that it confused many. From an outsider perspective, California officials blew up Disney’s plans.
Rather than expressing any frustration, Disney agreed that a later date was better for the park’s reopening.
What caused the decision? Well, if you keep up with the news, you undoubtedly know.
The Coronavirus Curve in California
The apparent truth is that Coronavirus cases are accelerating rapidly in late-June. The numbers strongly support this assertion.
In California, state officials had confirmed 113,006 cases from January, when it had two cases, through May 31st.
Through June 29th, the month has included 109,979 cases.
Yes, June alone will include more confirmed COVID-19 infections than all previous months combined.
If that statement doesn’t worry you, then you and I very different people.
Back in March, the country effectively shut down everything on March 11th.
On that date, California had confirmed 177 cases. On June 29th, the Golden State announced 6,896 new Coronavirus infections.
As a reminder, when we shut down the country, the goal was to flatten the curve on COVID-19.
Have you looked at a graph of the curve lately? If this were a football game, we’d be down about five touchdowns.
The Coronavirus Curve in Florida
I’m about to talk about Florida, but let’s use another data point from California.
Currently, 5.6 out of every 1,000 Californians have contracted COVID-19. In Florida, the statistic is 6.8 out of every 1,000 residents.
Yes, as terrible as the situation has been in California, it’s 20 percent worse in Florida.
Here are a few other numbers. Through May 31st, Florida reported 56,163 cases.
Now, I should acknowledge that this data is somewhat questionable since state officials fired the person running the Coronavirus console.
This decision alienated so many people that the terminated employee set up a GoFundMe page that has received nearly $200,000 in donations.
Clearly, Florida residents understand that something funky is going on with the numbers.
Unfortunately, we must rely on them for an apples-to-apples comparison.
So, our baseline is 56,163 cases from January through May 31st. Through June 29th, Florida officials have acknowledged 90,178 newly infected residents.
That’s an increase of 160 percent in confirmed cases during June.
The first thing I want to say here is that if you live in Florida, please be careful. That’s the critical part.
The secondary aspect is how the spiking of the curve impacts Walt Disney World. So, let’s evaluate it from Disney’s perspective.
The Florida Problem
Here’s the challenging part of the conversation.
Walt Disney World already established a breaking point for when Coronavirus concerns would qualify as troublesome.
The parks closed on March 16th, back when the state of Florida had 160 confirmed cases.
Florida has registered at least 5,000 cases for six consecutive days.
Based on these numbers, the decision to reopen Walt Disney World theme parks appears insane.
However, a second factor blends into this conversation.
Walt Disney World has already reopened. Disney Springs returned on May 20th and has operated without incident since then.
Nobody has confirmed any spread of the Coronavirus disease at Disney Springs, which tracks because park officials have responded so proactively.
Disney’s safety measures are the gold standard, something we’ve discussed here repeatedly.
I’m in awe of how much effort park officials have put into protecting potential customers.
Even that aspect is only part of the story, though. While Disney theme parks have remained on the sidelines, the company’s competitors have returned.
Universal Orlando Resort reopened on June 5th and has also avoided any COVID-19 outbreaks during June.
Even SeaWorld Orlando can make this claim, which is remarkable.
If you’re unaware, this park’s safety measures are so lacking that customers have left after a few hours and complained on social media.
So, Florida already has big headaches in the theme park industry, but Walt Disney World isn’t one of them.
Should Walt Disney World Reopen Right Now?
Given the above, this decision isn’t Florida’s to make. The governor recognizes this and has said as much.
Instead, the choice falls squarely on the shoulders of Chapek and Iger. They have all the data they need to decide, but it’s still brutal.
On the one hand, Disney Springs has hosted guests for more than a month now, and nobody’s gotten sick. The preventive measures in place have proven effective.
Similarly, other theme parks have reopened and avoided incident, even one that’s been reckless with its guests’ safety.
Plus, Disney has information from its Chinese parks about Coronavirus measures and has liaised with CDC/WHO officials to identify ways to stop the disease.
Disney executives have plenty of reasons to believe that the reopening of Walt Disney World theme parks is safe.
However, Coronavirus numbers in Florida are absolutely terrifying at the moment.
The pandemic has ravaged parts of the state, and the Orlando area has experienced a severe increase in infections.
So, the question becomes whether Disney can reopen without further endangering the safety of the public.
I believe that the safety measures in place will go a long way toward achieving this goal.
I’m confident Disney can do this and expect that park officials are locked onto this course of action.
Even so, another week of devastating Coronavirus numbers would force Disney to reconsider.
Folks, I’m going to circle back to something I said all the way back in March.
Wear your masks, keep washing your hands, and maintain your distance, my friends!
You’re not just doing it for yourself. You’re doing it for Mickey and Minnie Mouse, too!