The good news is that the latest models from the widely cited IHME model indicate physical distancing guidelines have helped control the infection rate in this unprecedented public health emergency and it appears Florida trend lines for new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, are all heading in the right direction, down.
The IHME model states, “After June 1, 2020, relaxing social distancing may be possible with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation, and limiting gathering size.”
What does that mean for Walt Disney World and other central Florida theme parks where gatherings of large size is part of the business model? The answer is still “it depends.” There’s a lot we still don’t know.
The disease that caused Walt Disney World and other central Florida attractions to close ‘until further notice’ is still out there and we really don’t have accurate data to know how far it has spread. We only know who was hospitalized and how many have died.
To get that rate of infection data, states and local communities will need to implement testing on large scale. Then a system that will test, trace, contact, and isolate infected people, will help keep the infection rate moving downward and keep the strain on the hospital system as low as possible.
If this model holds, then June 1st is when companies that invite customers on premises can start to think about taking the first steps toward safely reopening. Talk to any small business owner and they’ll tell you this day can’t come soon enough and they’re already thinking about what it will take, but that it will be complicated.
At Walt Disney World, as with Shanghai Disney Resort, it’s likely that some locations at the shopping and dining district, Disney Springs in Orlando, will open first.
Retail stores that can safely open while keeping occupancy rates low will likely be first. Health guidelines will still require masks to be worn when physical distancing guidelines can’t be observed.
We expect to see sanitization stations and hand washing facilities added throughout the shopping district and some stores might implement contactless temperature scanning as well.
Restaurants will take a bit longer to open as they’ll have to restart their supply chains, figure out how to operate with proper physical distancing (you can’t wear a mask and eat or drink, so restaurants are considering some changes such as adding a divider of some sort or six foot aisle between tables) and change hygiene and sanitization procedures.
Restarting the supply chains for all businesses (but especially restaurants) is probably the most difficult step. Some of those businesses down the supply chain may not yet have reopened by the time the restaurant is trying to reopen (or may never open again). Farms may have had to plow under their fields or can’t find workers to harvest the crops.
When the theme parks and resorts will open (along with sports venues and theatres) is less certain. Guidelines from state and federal health authorities continue restrictions on large crowd gatherings until the final phase of reopening.
Even if Disney and other theme parks attempt to reopen in a limited capacity that restricts crowd size by changing park operations, limiting attendance, and other measures, a “return to normal” (or the new normal, whatever that is) will take longer.
While Florida’s Governor hasn’t yet talked about it, California’s Governor said it’s very unlikely that restrictions on large gatherings would be loosened before September. Since California locked down before Florida did, that’s probably the earliest for Florida too.
Theme parks have all the same problems as small businesses, but magnified many times over. Plans to reopen must include: rehiring and retraining staff, restarting supply chains, contracting with third party vendors, performing maintenance and safety checks on attractions, to name just a few areas.
If the first relaxation of guidelines don’t result in an increase in the infection rate, sometime around mid summer Disney will start to implement its plans to reopen in anticipation of crowd size restrictions being further relaxed down the road.
When cast members are being recalled to start bringing the parks back online, that will be a welcome sign indeed.
In the meantime, we all need to do our part by staying at home, keeping up physical distancing measures when we have to go out for food or medicine, and wearing a mask when physical distancing is not practical and others might be around. We will get through this and, although things will be different, the parks and resorts will reopen.