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Disney World Reopening Pushes Forward Despite Florida’s COVID-19 Surge

State set a U.S. record for new single day coronavirus cases this past weekend

Even as confirmed COVID-19 cases in Florida passed 200,000 this weekend, plans to reopen the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando this weekend are moving forward as the theme park held a preview opening for employees on Monday.

Pictures have surfaced on social media of some of the safety measures that the park has implemented, including plexiglas dividers in some queue lines and on ride vehicles, including for popular rides like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Instead of in-person character meet-and-greets, characters will be riding in vehicles. Temperature checks will be taken at entry, and masks will be required at all times for guests with the exception of “break areas” placed throughout the park.

The Magic Kingdom Park and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park will reopen Saturday, followed by EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on July 15. While Disney has not disclosed the exact cap it is placing on attendance, it is expected that attendance at the parks will not be allowed to exceed 30%, the cap currently enforced at the recently reopened Shanghai Disneyland.

But the reopening has come amidst a steep surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida and grave concerns voiced by WDW employees. Two weeks ago, the Actor’s Equity Association — the U.S. labor union representing about 800 professional actors at Disney World — condemned the park’s decision to reopen even as Disney has backed off of plans to reopen Disneyland in Anaheim on July 17. Even if it hadn’t, public officials would have made the decision for Disney as California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to hold off on reopening several major entertainment industries including theme parks and movie theaters.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, conversely, has emphasized reopening the state’s economy and has approved WDW’s reopening along with Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings. “Disney, I have no doubt is going to be a safe environment,” DeSantis said. “I think that where you start to see the spread is just in social situations where people let their guard down. Usually like a private party or something like that.”

“We have to try to get our economy stimulated, but we don’t want to do that at the expense of risking people’s safety,” Demings added in his own press conference. “We’ll just have to monitor [the situation] going forward.”

But the Actors Equity Association has rejected this view, demanding that Disney provide COVID-19 testing for all employees. The demand comes as Florida set a new record for the most new COVID-19 cases in a U.S. state in a single day over the July 4 weekend, with over 11,000 cases reported.

“For weeks, we have made it clear to Disney that testing is a fundamental part of maintaining a safe and healthy environment for everyone, from the guests to the cast,” executive director Mary McColl said in her statement last month. “It is deeply disturbing that while coronavirus cases in Florida surge, Disney is refusing to provide regular testing to one of the few groups of workers in the park who by the very nature of their jobs, cannot use personal protective equipment.”

6,336 new cases were recorded in Florida on Monday, bringing the total to to 206,447 cases with 3,778 deaths, according to the Florida Health Department. In Orange County, where Orlando is located, 14,407 cases were reported on Monday with 493 hospitalizations and 61 deaths.

The infection surge isn’t just a concern to WDW workers. The resort is also set to host the NBA and MLS as they attempt to resume play at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. 22 NBA teams and 25 MLS teams are set to be housed in hotels on the WDW grounds with players and staff being regularly tested while competing and living in a bubble environment. MLS will start play tomorrow and continue through mid-August while the NBA will start play on July 30 with the NBA Finals set to take place in Orlando in early October. Several players in both leagues have decided not to participate due to COVID-19 concerns, with one MLS team, FC Dallas, announcing on Tuesday that it would drop out of league play entirely after 10 players tested positive.