Disney Pandemic Status Report 2022
At the start of 2021, many unknowns remained about the pandemic.
Vaccine shots had only recently started, and we had no idea how smoothly the rollout would go.
Also, Disneyland remained closed with little hope in sight for a return.
One year later, the overwhelming majority of people have taken their shots, and the Happiest Place on Earth is back.
Still, recent events have reminded us that we’re not out of the woods yet.
Here’s the Disney theme park pandemic status report as we enter 2022.
The pandemic reminds me of an ex who keeps calling. You know you shouldn’t talk to them, but you can’t help yourself.
After a few weeks of freedom, you find yourself right back in the same mess as before.
I’m saying this because the latest COVID-19 outbreak caught me completely flat-footed.
Now, I definitely expected Coronavirus cases to increase over the holidays. It’s a logical conclusion from large social gatherings.
Even so, nobody could have predicted what Florida experienced between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Infections spread so rapidly that hospitals got overwhelmed, forcing the usual amount of finger-pointing between state and local officials.
Nobody wanted to accept the blame for the exponential increase in COVID-19 across the state.
On December 1st, Florida averaged 1,312 new cases daily. By January 1st, that number had spiked to an almost incomprehensible 43,168 new cases per day.
Friends, if your kid loses a basketball game 43-1, you’re buying them ice cream and pizza afterward. It’s brutal.
That’s how staggering the difference was, though. Florida’s daily new cases went up by a factor of 33 during December.
As a reminder, suspicion remains strong that Florida is underreporting COVID-19 numbers as well. Unfortunately, the situation’s likely worse.
The Walt Disney World Considerations
How does this impact Disney? Oddly, I’ll use Universal Studios Florida to make that point.
The other Orlando theme park reopened first and has employed less stringent Coronavirus policies throughout the pandemic.
On Christmas Eve, Universal Studios reinstituted its indoor mask requirement for attractions and pretty much everything else.
That’s the equivalent of Captain America suddenly using a parachute when he jumps out of a plane. It’s a sure sign that something’s gone awry.
With Universal taking this position, you can imagine Disney’s perspective.
Management has worked hard to protect guests as much as possible during these trying times.
Disney has maintained constant communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure that the parks follow the science.
Right now, the science emphatically indicates that people should take their shots, get their boosters, and wear face coverings, especially indoors.
While a certain segment of the population continues to lament the face mask requirement, Disney trusts the CDC.
So, as long as the health officials there suggest masking, Disney theme parks will comply.
Now, we do have some questions about mask enforcement at the parks. Anecdotal reports indicate that some cast members care about the rules more than others.
Conversely, there’s social media showing ejections for rebellious guests reasonably often.
Disney’s in a no-win position here, and it has hardened cast members and executives alike.
Meanwhile, the fallout from the pandemic outbreak has created a cascading effect.
I’m sure you’ve read stories about airline cancellations during the holidays.
Airlines canceled more than 10,000 flights between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Think about how many Disney vacationers that impacted.
Now, consider that Disney was already short-staffed…and a COVID outbreak prevented some workers from doing their jobs!
Walt Disney World had a rough end of 2021.
I feel like somebody should write a story about the different approaches to the pandemic among Florida and California officials.
Suggested title: A Tale of Two States.
The contrasts have boggled my mind repeatedly over the past two years. To wit, Disneyland didn’t get to open until Orange County, California, achieved specific metrics.
Disney executives found this concept draconian and complained loudly to healthcare and government officials alike…but to no avail.
Eventually, Disney pushed boundaries by hosting A Touch of Disney in early 2021, almost as an act of defiance.
Soon afterward, California relented and allowed Disneyland to reopen. I’d describe the agreement as necessary but shaky.
Even now, Disneyland’s management team errs on the side of caution to ensure that nobody thinks about shutting the park down again.
I don’t think that will happen since so much of the population has received vaccination shots.
Still, California has suffered an outbreak as well. On December 1st, the state reported an average of 4,310 new daily infections.
By New Year’s Day, that average had surged to 32,001. Remarkably, that’s still much lower than Florida, a state with barely half the population of California.
Overall, the latest surge hasn’t impacted the Golden State as much. However, the densely populated areas dictate erring on the side of caution.
For this reason, Disneyland will likely maintain face-covering policies for longer than Walt Disney World.
The Disneyland Considerations
I’ve had to think far too much about the pandemic since I write about it so much.
Recently, what has made me contemplative is the uniquely cascading impact of Coronavirus on Disney.
I say this about the meta of the company, with cruises, movie theaters, and theme parks forced to close.
However, the premise applies to the theme parks as well. Any new outbreak causes ancillary problems at Disney.
For example, those supply chain concerns that you heard about so often in 2021 remain frayed.
The Great Resignation amplified the problem, causing a shortage of workers across industries.
Also, the replacements at those jobs require new training and remain inexperienced relative to the previous workers.
In addition, an outbreak in California/Florida impacts Disney’s staffing since the parks are in those two states.
Just when customers need more immediate crisis support, Disney loses staff to sick days.
As for those supplies, Disney has adjusted menus and merchandising based on what they can get at the time.
Management at both parks has engaged in long-term triage for nearly two years now.
People take for granted that the parks are open and operating relatively smoothly. It’s a business triumph for the ages that virtually nobody appreciates.
Where Do the Parks Go from Here?
Let’s start with the good news. Roughly 73.3 percent of the American population has taken at least one vaccine dose.
Roughly 62 percent of Americans qualify as fully vaccinated. And please remember that many of those unaccounted for are children under the age of 12.
Healthcare officials only recommended the vaccination of children two months ago, on October 29th. So, most of the people who can be vaccinated have protected themselves.
This knowledge aids Disney in planning the future. While the Omicron variant is wildly contagious, its impact has – at least thus far – proven less severe.
The more significant concern is the need for hospital beds in highly populated areas. However, those numbers aren’t as worrisome as last August’s Delta wave.
Importantly, vaccinated people are statistically unlikely to suffer near-fatal/fatal episodes from Omicron, which is keeping hospitalizations lower to date.
So, as long as you’ve had your shots, you may get sick and suffer symptoms. You’ll recover, though.
Disney knows this from its CDC conversations and frequent discussions with local hospitals and healthcare officials.
For this reason, I suspect that the current outbreak will prove a blip. That would be in stark contrast to the continued concern of Delta.
Even if that guess proves correct, the numbers are unlikely to go down until late January or possibly even February.
The explanation involves kids unknowingly contracting COVID over the holidays and then spreading it at school.
If so, the current wave should crest in a few weeks. At that point, Walt Disney World can and will contemplate less restrictive face mask rules.
I doubt Disneyland does the same for a while. However, as an optimist, I believe that Walt Disney World will drop all mask policies at some point in 2022.
When that happens, the pandemic is truly over.