Walt Disney World Is Set To Reopen on July 11, Even as Florida's Covid Cases Skyrocket

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Entrance to Walt Disney World, Florida
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Nearly four months after it first closed its gates, Florida's Walt Disney World is set to reopen Saturday, July 11. But although some Disney fans are giddy with excitement over the park's long-awaited return, not everyone is happy about it. Among them? Those who've been closely watching Florida's recent surge in coronavirus cases, which have ballooned to more than 233K.

  • Disney World will start its phased reopening at 9 a.m. Saturday, beginning with Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.

    On July 15, the company plans to follow by opening EPCOT and Disney's Hollywood Studios, but in all cases more than a few health and safety restrictions have been put in place.

    According to Disney's new theme park guidelines, which were approved by the state of Florida last month, guests must make online reservations to enter the parks and arrive during specified entrance times, which have been staggered to prevent long lines from forming. When guests enter the park, temperature screenings may be taken to ensure they don't show signs of the virus. 

    The parks will also be operating at a reduced capacity, and all guests 2 and older will be required to wear face mask coverings at all times. Cleaning measures have also been stepped up within the park, and guests will be separated by empty rows when riding attractions.

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  • Public opinions on whether Disney is making the right move remains divided.

    The reopening has sparked a lot of outcry on social media from people who can't quite wrap their minds around why the theme park would reopen right now, at a time when Florida is seeing, on average, about 10,000 new cases of the coronavirus per day.

    "Reopening is INSANE," tweeted one person in response to the news. "People who attend are putting themselves AND others at risk. Medical personnel are being taxed and are becoming sick with this virus because of this behavior."

    "They can pretend to do all the social distancing they want, but every single person is going to be touching the hand rails on every ride," another added. "This is the dumbest idea. I'm obsessed with Disney, but there's no way you'd catch me there until we are past all this."

    "I'm sorry, what?" someone else wrote. "They're going to open in four days? Among their record-breaking explosion of cases? Florida deserves everything that is happening to them."

  • In the last five weeks, Florida has quickly become the country's new virus hot spot, which has alarmed health officials throughout the US. 

    The surge is testing the state's health care system, as doctors worry that hospitals will soon reach capacity. As of Tuesday, CBS News reported that 84% of Forida's ICU beds were filled. According to a report this week by the New York Times, doctors and nurses are struggling to grapple with what comes next.

    "When hospitals and health care assistants talk about surge capacity, they're often talking about a single event,” John Sinnott, chairman of internal medicine at the University of South Florida and chief epidemiologist at Tampa General Hospital, told the Times. "But what we're having now is the equivalent of a bus accident a day, every day, and it just keeps adding."

  • The state's surge also includes some 7,000 children who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the latest data.

    The Miami Herald reported that two of those children have died from the virus, whereas 12 others have contracted the COVID-triggered condition known as MIS-C, or Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children.

    The news has led many health officials to remind the public that although children are still less likely to contract the virus than adults (some research says they're less than half as likely), the threat still looms.

    "Just because they look well, doesn't necessarily mean they don't have the disease," Dr. Marcos Mestre, senior medical director of pediatric services at Nicklaus Children's Hospital near South Miami, told the Herald.

  • Some experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, believe Florida's virus spike has a lot to do with reopening the state too soon, without exercising caution.

    "There are some times when despite the guidelines and the recommendations to open up carefully and prudently, some states skipped over those and just opened up too quickly," Fauci said during a recent interview with Podcast-19. "Certainly Florida I know, you know, I think jumped over a couple of checkpoints."

    Aileen Marty, an infectious diseases expert who helped write Miami-Dade's reopening rules, agreed.

    "Right now, we are heading a million miles an hour in the wrong direction," Marty told CBS This Morning. "It's absolutely the saddest thing, the most unnecessary situation that we're finding ourselves in. And it's behaviorally driven."

  • Still, some say the measures Disney's putting in place actually make them feel a whole lot safer about going.

    “We are worried about the virus being so on fire, but, and this is putting a lot of trust into Disney, I do feel like Disney has set up some amazing protocols to keep people safe," California mom Cheryl Evans told NBC News this week. "We wouldn't go outside of Disney World ... Hopefully in the Disney bubble we'll feel safe."

    She also believes that she's helping to support a brand she cares about while ensuring that Disney cast members retain their jobs.

    "If Disney's ready to open and they feel like that's what they need to do business-wise, let's face it, their income is coming from their theme park revenue and they're losing billions of dollars so they feel that they can open safely," Evans added. "If they're opening their park, they need people to visit the park and we're just one of those people."

  • Florida's decision to move full-speed ahead with the reopening strikes quite the contrast with what happened in California just last month.

    On June 24, Disney halted plans to reopen Disneyland, which is in Anaheim, California, citing pending state approvals.

    "The State of California has now indicated that it will not issue theme park reopening guidelines until sometime after July 4," read the announcement by Disney Parks.

    "Given the time required for us to bring thousands of cast members back to work and restart our business, we have no choice but to delay the reopening of our theme parks and resort hotels until we receive approval from government officials. Once we have a clearer understanding of when guidelines will be released, we expect to be able to communicate a reopening date," the announcement continued.

  • California's Downtown Disney District, which is home to many shops and restaurants, did reopen as planned on Thursday.

    When it did, guests flocked in droves, waiting in long lines that stretched far beyond the entrance. 

    Guests remained socially distanced by 6 feet while waiting to get in, but most of those rules were semi-impossible to maintain as they flooded into stores to buy Disney merch, according to Deadline.

  • Reopening Disney World hasn't been the only eye-opening move made by Florida lately.

    Despite rising virus cases, Florida's Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered all K to 12 schools to reopen in August with in-person classes held five days a week.

    The move has sparked a lot of debate throughout the Sunshine State, as well as nationally, with many fearing that sending kids and teachers back to school at a time when cases are soaring is a recipe for disaster.

    "In August, for schools, it's a petri dish when it's not a pandemic," Phoenix mom Uzma Jafri recently told the Washington Post. “We both know how viruses work, and we cannot understand how schools can open and be safe.

    "The best thing for my mental health is to keep them all home," she added. "And it's working for us. We get all our school work done in two hours a day and they are free to do what they want."