To ensure we are equipping our readers with all the information they need, we will continue to report on all travel, safety, and COVID-related news that could impact a Disney Parks visit.
This Post Was Last Updated On: September 29th, 2022 and will no longer be updated. For the latest updates, click the link above to see our post which is continuously updated with details about travel to Disney World and Disneyland.
The global health crisis has been ongoing for quite some time and has had its fair share of effects on Disney World.
We’ve seen closures, significant health measures, changes in demand and capacity, and more as the world grapples with COVID-19 and its variants. In 2021, a new coronavirus variant was found — the Omicron variant — and it (and its subvariants) continues to affect certain aspects related to travel and more. Let’s take a look at its potential effects on your Disney World trip.
What is the Omicron Coronavirus variant?
First of all, let’s take a look at the basics: What is the Omicron variant? Omicron is a mutation of the coronavirus and was designated as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Research into the Omicron variant is still ongoing. In a video released by the WHO on December 17th, 2021, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove indicated that “In terms of transmissibility, we are seeing a really increased growth rate of Omicron over other variants of concern.” According to The New York Times, data now shows it has been detected in at least 190 nations.
Dr. Kerkhove also noted that some of the mutations that have been identified in Omicron provide a “growth advantage,” allowing it to be more transmissible.
According to the CDC website, Omicron “causes less severe illness and death in general.” But a surge in cases could lead to increased rates of hospitalizations and death.
When asked what people can do to protect themselves against Omicron, Dr. Kerkhove noted that the first thing is to get vaccinated. Dr. Kerkhove said, “what we do know is that it is better to be vaccinated than not.”
The WHO notes that all variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant, “can cause severe disease or death, in particular for more vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always key.”
Further, some early evidence may suggest an increased risk of reinfection from Omicron (that is, those who have had COVID-19 may be more at risk of infection from Omicron than other variants). The CDC website also notes, that Omicron “spreads more easily than earlier variants.”
At this time, it is also known that PCR tests continue to detect COVID-19 infections — including those from the Omicron variant.
The first confirmed case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the U.S. was identified in California on December 1st, 2021, according to CNN.
The New York Times notes that Omicron has now been found in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C.
As of the last update to this post, CDC data shows that BA.2 (an Omicron subvariant) recently made up around 0.0% of cases, while BA.2.12.1 (a separate subvariant of Omicron) made up around 0.0%. Newer variants now make up greater percentages of cases. Specifically, BA.5 makes up over 80% of cases in the U.S.
Cases of Omicron have been detected in Florida and it had been identified as being present in the wastewater in a Disney World county. In mid-April 2022, we shared that levels of the BA.2 Omicron subvariant had been increasing in wastewater near Disney World.
As of January 3rd, 2022, the United States had set the global daily record of COVID-19 cases with one million cases. COVID-19 numbers in general, however, have greatly changed over the last few months.
According to data shared by Google, as of September 28th, 2022 the 7-day case number average was 50,505, much lower than case numbers from January and early February, but higher than some numbers seen in March and April.
COVID-19 hospitalizations were increasing in Florida as of May 2022. Numbers have changed over the last few months, but the 14-day change from late September of 2022 showed a 25% decrease for hospitalizations in Florida.
This, of course, continues to be an ever-changing situation.
What are the concerns about the Omicron variant?
What concerns do health and science professionals have about Omicron? CBS notes that “Health authorities say Omicron carries a unique set of mutations that might give the virus an advantage in driving new surges of infections.”
The CDC website shares that “vaccines help prevent severe illness and death in general.” However, breakthrough infections in people who are vaccinated can occur.
According to NBC Chicago, Pfizer previously indicated that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine “may offer important protection against the new omicron variant even though the initial two doses appear significantly less effective.” Moderna also indicated that its COVID-19 booster shot appears to provide protection against the Omicron COVID-19 variant. Johnson & Johnson has indicated the same.
According to NBC Chicago, though the FDA approved the Johnson & Johnson booster, “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people should get the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna boosters instead where possible, citing concerns over extremely rare blood clots.”
Some vaccine companies worked on vaccines meant to target the Omicron variants. In 2022, the FDA authorized the use of Moderna’s and Pfizer’s bivalent formulations of their vaccines as a single booster dose. These “updated boosters” are meant to provide better protection against COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant. These are now available for the public to get.
COVID-19 Testing and Masks
Individuals in the United States were previously eligible to order FREE at-home COVID-19 tests. That program has ended. According to USA Today, Americans who have private health insurance can get up to 8 at-home COVID-19 tests for free. “Consumers can either purchase the testing kits at no cost or submit receipts for reimbursement from the insurance company.”
The U.S. government has also given out 3 free N95 masks to every person that visits a community health center, in addition to participating pharmacies and retailers like CVS, Costco, and Walmart. Visit the government website here to find a health center near you. You can also visit the CDC website here to see what pharmacies and retailers may still be participating in the program.
This comes after the CDC made updates to its website to note that “Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.”
What travel restrictions have been put in place in response to the Omicron variant?
According to Al Jazeera, the United States previously closed its borders to non-citizens from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
UPDATE: The White House issued a subsequent proclamation revoking the previous proclamation which created the travel bans applicable to the southern African countries. Effective December 31st, 2021 at 12:01AM ET, the U.S. travel bans in place for those southern African countries were lifted.
The current United States travel restrictions could have effects on Disney World travelers. The U.S. currently requires all non-immigrant, non-citizen air travelers to the United States to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of their vaccination status BEFORE boarding a plane to the U.S.
Proof of vaccination is not required for U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents before boarding a flight to the U.S.
Previously, all travelers were also required to show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 1 day before travel. That testing requirement has since ended.
After arrival in the United States, travelers are recommended to take a COVID-19 test three to five days after travel.
The CDC recommends that individuals make sure they are “up to date” with their COVID-19 vaccines BEFORE traveling internationally.
Being “up to date” means a person has received all doses in the primary series and all updated boosters that are recommended for that person, when eligible.
Masks and Travel
The CDC had extended the mask mandate on airplanes, trains, buses, and transportation hubs through early May of 2022. But a federal judge in Florida then struck down the CDC’s mask requirement for transportation.
Following that court order, the TSA announced that it would not enforce the mask mandate on public transportation. Uber, different airports (including Orlando International Airport), Disney World, Disneyland, and several airlines have changed their mask requirements.
The CDC later made a determination “that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health.” Because of that determination, the Biden Administration appealed the Judge’s order.
In August of 2022, Reuters shared that a group of 23 state attorneys general told a federal court that the CDC “lacks the legal authority to impose a nationwide transportation mask mandate to address COVID-19.”
What recommendations have been made in response to the Omicron variant?
The recommendations in response to the Omicron variant are similar to the health recommendations we’ve seen over the last two years.
In 2021, WHO said, “The most effective steps individuals can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus is to keep a physical distance of at least 1 meter from others; wear a well-fitting mask; open windows to improve ventilation; avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces; keep hands clean; cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue; and get vaccinated when it’s their turn.” (November 2021)
The CDC has updated its recommendations regarding boosters and vaccines, depending on the age group you fall within. You can see some of those details below.
The CDC has updated its mask guidance and provided modified community transmission level information. According to the CDC’s updated guidance, mask recommendations depend on the COVID-19 community level for where you live.
According to CDC data, Orange County, Florida (where part of Disney World is located) is at the “low” level. Osceola County, Florida (another county where part of Disney World is located) is at the “medium” level.
In the “medium” category, the CDC recommends that individuals at high risk for getting sick discuss whether they need to wear a mask.
In addition to the regular Omicron variant, there are various subvariants of Omicron. One subvariant is the BA.2 subvariant. Cases of the subvariant were found in Florida some time ago, but it no longer makes up a significant part of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
The BA.2.12.1 Omicron subvariant was previously discovered and made up a greater percentage of cases in the U.S. for a while. The subvariant is thought to be even more contagious than BA.2, but it no longer makes up a significant part of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
As of the last updates to this post, the BA.5 variant is the omicron subvariant making up the majority of new cases in the U.S.
BA.5, has reportedly been fueled an outbreak of new COVID-19 cases.
Experts previously discussed whether there would be a summer surge for COVID-19.
The New York Times later reported that the U.S. was in the middle of a COVID-19 surge, due to the BA.5 subvariant.
End of the “Full-Blown Explosive Pandemic” Phase
Dr. Anthony Fauci previously said that the United States was “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase.” Though that didn’t mean the pandemic was over, it did mean the situation was changing, at least at that time.
What Changes Could Disney World Make?
Scientists are still learning about the Omicron variant, but what changes can we predict we might see in response at Disney World? Keep in mind that there were not many changes in response to the Delta variant and there have been fewer policy changes in general since the vaccine became widely available.
In fact, in recent months we’ve seen changes made in response to Omicron but they have been more on the side of relaxing certain requirements.
Previously, we saw the reinstatement of the indoor mask policy at Disney World, which came along with the CDC changing recommendations with rising transmissions in the summer of 2021. The mask rules at Disney World, however, have since changed. As of this moment, face masks are OPTIONAL for all guests in most outdoor and indoor locations, as well as Disney transportation.
Disney does say, however, say that it is “recommended” that guests who are not fully vaccinated wear face masks in all indoor locations.
Note that from what we’ve experienced, masks may still be required in certain parts of First Aid Centers, so just keep that in mind.
Mask recommendations from the CDC have also changed over the last several months, and they have released some updated information and calculations regarding community transmission levels.
Orange County is in the low level, while Osceola County is in the medium level. Thus far, we haven’t seen Disney make any policy changes based on these changing community levels.
Disney World has also paused most Annual Pass sales (likely in an effort to help manage capacity) (this was done back in November of 2021).
Mask policy changes and updates have been much more prevalent than closures. Re-closures for rides, restaurants, shows, and hotels may be unlikely as Disney has continued to announce reopenings despite the Delta and Omicron variants thus far.
But things could change depending on how the situation with Omicron in general or the various variants develops. Note that some international Disney parks did close for a time due to COVID-19 — specifically Shanghai Disneyland closed for some time but has since reopened, and Hong Kong Disneyland closed for a period of time but has since reopened.
If mask or capacity policies do see changes, you’ll be able to learn all about them and how they might affect your trip here on DFB.
Keep an eye on DFB for any policy updates and major health recommendations from science and health professionals.