ORLANDO – Quarantined alone for weeks, Kristen Hariton listens to Walt Disney World ride the soundtrack while she works in her one-bedroom condo.
His music playlist is the best he can do now because he has lost the happiest place on Earth.
Hariton said he would do anything, including wearing a mask, to return to the amusement park again.
“I truly believe that if there is something we can do as individuals to make our collective groups more secure, I am certainly willing to do that,” said Hariton, an annual Disney passenger from New Jersey who works for a real estate technology company.
Face masks can become a duty for tourists every time Disney World and the Universal theme park reopen. This potential policy has sparked debate that reviews some future law enforcement challenges when the park plans a safety plan for the highly contagious corona virus.
“Along with social distance, one of the things we will most likely need is a mask for players and guests,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in a May 11 interview on CNBC. He acknowledged the biggest challenge to reopening Disneyland and Disney World was visitors adjusting to the cover.
Several businesses connected with theme parks opened this month at Universal CityWalk and Disney Springs with mask requirements for employees and visitors.
“Yes, we are considering face covering,” Universal spokesman Tom Schroder wrote in an email. “We will use the learning we gained from reopening CityWalk along with continued guidance from the CDC and health professionals to make decisions about the protocol for operating our amusement park.”
SeaWorld theme park will require masks for employees, the company said earlier this month, although company officials declined to say whether the rules would apply to visitors too.
HOW ABOUT CHILDREN?
Lilly Ahmed was able to imagine disaster when trying to persuade her three young sons who didn’t understand the word “pandemic” to cover their faces.
His sons, ages 4, 6 and 7, are all on the autism spectrum, which makes communication a challenge and their senses are very sensitive. The new feeling of feeling the mask on their faces and the scent that is trapped will scare them, said Ahmed, who lives in London.
“It is an impossible request to ask anyone, with all justice,” said Ahmed, who is nervous about changing the rules if Disney and Universal reopen on time for their summer holidays. “How will you enforce it with children with disabilities, or anyone with disabilities?”
A medical expert praised the park for taking the mask seriously, although he agreed that law enforcement would be difficult, especially for children and people with disabilities.
“Masks are very important,” Dr. Marcia Katz, associate dean for clinical affairs at the University of Central Florida medical school. “If you want to be safe and create a safe environment for others, you have to wear a mask.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cloth coverings because large numbers of people have no symptoms while still transmitting the virus to others. However, not everyone has to wear a mask.
The CDC cites exceptions for children under 2 years, people with respiratory problems and those who cannot take off their own masks.
Katz also emphasized that different types of masks offer different levels of protection. N95 masks, for example, are more effective than simple cloth covers, he said.
Medical professionals say the social distance protocol and regular hand washing are as important as Disney’s plans for future reopening.
The problem of wearing a mask in an amusement park is not likely to fade soon.
Transmission is unlikely to disappear, said Dr. Orlando Health Patricia Couto, which focuses on infectious diseases.
“We must learn to live with this virus,” Couto warned.
Meanwhile, amusement park fans churned out on social media with what-if scenarios. What if I use a high-speed roller coaster or ride in water or pose for a photo? Should I leave it?
Around the world from Orlando, visitors wearing Mickey Mouse ears and face masks flowed into Shanghai’s Disney parks in China while “When You Wish Upon a Star” played a loudspeaker during the reopening on May 11 after the closing of the 3-month coronavirus.
Even before the coronavirus, amusement park writer Robb Alvey said it was not unusual to see people whizzing on a roller coaster with masks in Asian parks.
“This is no big deal,” said Alvey, who once bought a mask decorated with Donald Duck for his daughter.
In Asia, face masks have long been common in public areas because of the high density population and other pandemic histories, said Xiang “Robert” Li, director of the US Center for Tourism and Hospitality Research at Temple University.
“It’s easier for people to accept the idea of wearing a mask,” Li said.
In Western culture, Li said, people tend to feel their broadcast masks hurt.
Welcome to the summer in Orlando that Sarah Perry has described as “a wet blanket above you.”
It is hot. Moist. Sweating. Now, add a face covering for that.
“Wearing a mask will make it harder to breathe,” said Perry, an annual passenger who is a surgical nurse at Orlando Health.
But Disney and Universal-goers have dared to be far worse than the clothes on their faces, said Alvey, who runs Theme Park Review.
He points to Universal fans wearing full Harry Potter robes and describing Halloween costumes at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party as evidence of what is possible to wear in hot Orlando.
Perry doubts Americans who are not accustomed to masks can properly turn on and off without polluting them.
To maintain visitor safety, Perry said Disney must take more extreme measures, such as not allowing anyone over the age of 65 – the age group most vulnerable to viruses – or residents outside the state who might travel from more remote areas higher infected than Florida.
“I think the mask is important,” Perry said. “But that’s not the only thing that big organizations like Disney are doing. It has to be part of the solution. I’m looking forward to other ideas that Disney has released.”
Melissa Fass hasn’t forgotten her Orlando friends who work in amusement parks, so she likes Disney to consider precautions, such as masks, to keep them protected.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Fass, who left his Disney World merchandising job several months ago and now lives near Huntsville, Alabama, and works in the aviation industry.
But he is also worried about a confrontation between tourists who oppose the policy of the mask and his former colleagues who are stuck upholding it.
The Orlando Sentinel investigation last year found tourists sometimes verbally and even amusement park workers who were physically abused, according to Orange County sheriff’s notes. What often triggers an explosion of visitors is employees politely asking them to obey the rules of FastPasses, prams and routine operating procedures.
Can Disney workers get pushback for more controversial policies?
“There is potential for war or other inconveniences,” said Neal Shanske, an online marketing entrepreneur who lives in Boston and visits Disney World once or twice a year. “Every member of the cast becomes a sheriff or frontline deputy.”
“I don’t see how they can open without some form of masking policy, but it will be difficult to maintain … What works in Shanghai may not always work in Orlando.”
Disney plans to mobilize hotel employees working at the children’s activity center to the amusement park to help visitors understand the new rules.
But attraction consultant Brad Merriman believes Disney World employees will have an easier time to implement the mask policy because the crowd is expected to be drastically reduced.
The mask is a clear sign that Disney, an industry leader, has safety procedures, he said.
“(The mask) may feel new and unusual, but it gives guests a sense of security and security,” said Merriman, president of MR-ProFun, comparing it to the feelings of tourists when Disney added bag checks and improved security after guests of 9/11 terror attacks.
The CEO of Disney said that employees and guests must work together with each other to make the mask policy work.
“Everyone knows COVID-19 is a serious problem,” Chapek said in his CNBC interview. “We will do our part, and we need our guests to do their part, too.”
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