Disney World has been following strict health and safety guidelines since the parks reopened. Guests are required to wear face masks and are required to have their temperature checked before entering the parks or Disney Springs.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, indicates that temperature screenings may not be as effective in pinpointing coronavirus cases as once believed. How did they reach this conclusion and what could this mean for Disney’s procedures? We’re breaking it down for you here.
As we mentioned, before you enter a Disney Park and Disney Springs, your temperature is checked. Temperature checks have also been instituted in Disney World Resort hotel table service restaurants. But how effective is this at catching potential COVID-19 cases? The CDC has some thoughts on that based on a new study.
In January, with the support of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the CDC instituted “an enhanced entry risk assessment and management (screening) program” for passengers traveling by air and arriving from certain countries with high levels of COVID-19. The screening aimed to identify travelers with COVID-19 symptoms or who had a known exposure to someone with COVID-19 in order to separate them from others, among other goals.
The screening had 3 steps (1) identifying travelers for screening if they had been during one of the specified countries with high levels of COVID; (2) a temperature check, looking for signs of the illness, and a questionnaire about signs and symptoms; and (3) referral of ill travelers for medical evaluation.
Between January 17th through September 13th, 2020, over 700,000 passengers were screened, of which only 298 met the criteria for public health assessment, 35 were tested for the coronavirus, and only 9 ultimately had a positive COVID-19 test result.
The CDC recognized, that the low yield they saw in this study was likely due to several reasons including just a potential low COVID-19 prevalence in travelers and other factors. But the CDC also specifically noted that the “low case detection rate of this resource-intensive program highlighted the need for fundamental change in the U.S. border health strategy.”
Because COVID-19 “infection and transmission can occur in the absence of symptoms and because the symptoms of COVID-19 are nonspecific,” the CDC has determined that “symptom-based screening programs are ineffective for case detection.”
Essentially, a person could be positive for COVID-19 and not have any symptoms (either because they are asymptomatic or perhaps presymptomatic), and so a symptom-based screening method (like a temperature check and symptom-based questionnaire) likely would not be able to identify that person as positive and screen them out.
In fact, the CDC noted that the findings from this study are consistent with some mathematical models which “suggest that most infected travelers would be undetected by symptom-based screening at airports.”
Again, the CDC noted that there could be other factors at play in their study including reductions in travel during the early part of the pandemic (which may have discouraged symptomatic people from traveling), as well as certain limitations such as the fact that screening was limited to travelers from certain countries, and the fact that not all symptomatic travelers were referred for a health assessment because many COVID-19 symptoms are nonspecific.
Still, the CDC ultimately “recommended a shift from resource-intensive, low-yield, symptom-based screening of air travelers to an approach that better fits the current stage of the pandemic.” Since the screening program ended, the CDC notes that the efforts to reduce COVID-19 have focused more on enhancing communication with travelers to promote recommended preventative measures.
The CDC also states that other things may help reduce the risk for COVID-19 transmission during travel, like “incorporating health attestations, predeparture and postarrival testing, and a period of limited movement after higher-risk travel.”
So, what’s the main takeaway here? The CDC has now determined that “Symptom-based screening programs are ineffective because of the nonspecific clinical presentation of COVID-19 and asymptomatic cases.”
What could that mean for Disney World? We’ll have to wait and see.
Could we see temperature checks go away? We don’t think that’s likely, at least not in the immediate future. Although symptom-based screening programs, like temperature checks, may not be incredibly effective because they cannot screen out guests who are not presenting any symptoms, they can still catch the small number of guests who are ill and presenting some symptoms.
Considering that Disney has repeatedly noted how it has been able to successfully and safely open its parks around the world, and the fact that no COVID-19 cases have been directly traced back to Disney World, it’s likely that Disney wants to keep things that way. And even if the temperature checks only effectively screen out a few guests, Disney may be thinking the effort is worth it to screen those out under the current procedures, rather than not at all — at least until a more effective and efficient system can be discovered.
But, that’s just our thoughts on the situation at this time. Of course, things at Disney (and all over the world) are always subject to change. As holiday crowds increase, it’s important to stay up to date with and follow all the guidelines set in place by Disney. Check back with us as we update you about future changes to safety procedures.
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Are you planning on visiting Disney World in the next few weeks for the holiday season? Let us know in the comments.