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.
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 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).
At this time, 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 185 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.
In terms of the symptoms for Omicron, Dr. Kerkhove noted that they are still learning about the severity of the disease, but they do know that individuals who have Omicron “can have the full spectrum of disease, everything from asymptomatic infection, mild infection, people needing hospitalization, and people have died from Omicron.” (WHO video)
According to the CDC website, “Omicron infection generally causes less severe disease than infection with prior variants. Preliminary data suggest that Omicron may cause more mild disease, although some people may still have severe disease, need hospitalization, and could die from the infection with this variant. Even if only a small percentage of people with Omicron infection need hospitalization, a large volume of cases in a community could overwhelm the healthcare system which is why it’s important to take steps to protect yourself.”
When asked what people can do to protect themselves against Omicron, Dr. Kerkhove noted that the first thing is to get vaccinated. Dr. Kerkhove noted that studies regarding Omicron and the effectiveness of vaccines are underway, but “what we do know is that it is better to be vaccinated than not.” Dr. Kerkhove also noted that measures like physical distancing, wearing a well-fitted mask, cleaning your hands, and avoiding crowds can help. (WHO video)
What is confirmed by WHO is 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, there is some early evidence that 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, “The Omicron variant spreads more easily than earlier variants of the virus that cause COVID-19, including the Delta variant. CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection, regardless of vaccination status or whether or not they have symptoms, can spread the virus to others.”
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 fully-vaccinated individual had recently traveled from South Africa. Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci, noted that the individual had not, to his knowledge, received the booster shot.
The New York Times notes that Omicron has now been found in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C.
Back in December of 2021 Click Orlando (powered by News 6), shared “Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is…the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S.”
Later, A press release from the TSA from 2022 indicated that the BA.2 subvariant (at that time) made up more than 85% of U.S. cases.
Cases of Omicron have been detected in Florida and it has 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 have 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 May 12th, 2022 the 7-day case number average was 88,545, much lower than case numbers from January and early February, but higher than some numbers seen in March. COVID-19 hospitalizations are also increasing in Florida, as of May of 2022.
A press release from the TSA from April 13th, 2022 notes that “Since early April 2022, there have been increases in the 7-day moving average of COVID-19 cases in the United States.”
What are the concerns about the Omicron variant?
There are still a lot of questions about the Omicron variant but what concerns do health and science professionals have? 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 compared with the fast-spreading Delta variant, which currently makes up virtually all U.S. cases.”
As we noted above, the CDC website also notes, “The Omicron variant spreads more easily than earlier variants of the virus that cause COVID-19, including the Delta variant.”
The CDC website notes the following about vaccines and Omicron, “COVID-19 vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19 and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging. This includes primary series, booster shots, and additional doses for those who need them.”
The CDC also notes that “Current vaccines protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are vaccinated can occur. People who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines and get COVID-19 are less likely to develop serious illness than those who are unvaccinated and get COVID-19.”
Scientists around the world are currently working to research the Omicron variant. WHO is currently coordinating a number of studies including “assessments of transmissibility, severity of infection (including symptoms), performance of vaccines and diagnostic tests, and effectiveness of treatments.”
The individual vaccine companies — Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer and BioNTech — are in the process of investigating the impact Omicron may have on vaccine effectiveness. ABC News has noted that Pfizer could have a COVID-19 booster that addresses the Omicron variant and its subvariants by this fall.
According to NBC Chicago, Pfizer has 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 has 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.”
COVID-19 Testing and Masks
As of the time of this writing, every home in the United States is eligible to order 4 FREE at-home COVID-19 tests. Additionally, according to USA Today, Americans who have private health insurance can get up to 8 at-home COVID-19 tests for free. “Private health plans are required to cover the over-the-counter tests at up to $12 per test. Consumers can either purchase the testing kits at no cost or submit receipts for reimbursement from the insurance company.”
The U.S. government is now giving 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 are 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. Some countries have enacted total bans on foreigners entering the country — China, Israel, Japan, and Morocco — and partial bans had previously been enacted around the world.
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 countries impacted were: the Republic of Botswana, the Kingdom of Eswatini, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Republic of Malawi, the Republic of Mozambique, the Republic of Namibia, the Republic of South Africa, and the Republic of Zimbabwe.
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 are required to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of their vaccination status BEFORE boarding a plane to the U.S.
Additionally, all travelers are required to show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 1 day before travel. The section below is from the CDC’s website for international travel for non-U.S. citizens and non-U.S. immigrants.
Proof of vaccination is not required for U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents before boarding a flight to the U.S., but they must meet certain COVID-19 testing requirements. The same 1-day COVID-19 testing requirements apply for U.S. Citizens, U.S. Nationals, lawful permanent residents, and immigrants traveling to the U.S.
After arrival in the United States, travelers are recommended to take a COVID-19 test three to five days after travel. The image below is taken from the CDC site for U.S. citizens, nationals, permanent residents, and immigrants. Different recommendations may apply to others, so be sure to review what recommendations apply to you.
The CDC now has certain recommendations specifically for those who are not “up to date” with their vaccines.
The CDC notes that being “up to date” means a person has “received all doses in the primary series and one booster when eligible.” At this time, getting a second booster dose is not necessary to be considered “up to date.”
Additionally, the CDC recommends that individuals make sure they are “up to date” with their COVID-19 vaccines BEFORE traveling internationally.
Some individuals were previously advised not to travel by WHO. WHO notes, “Persons who are unwell, or who have not been fully vaccinated or do not have proof of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection and are at increased risk of developing severe disease and dying, including people 60 years of age or older or those with comorbidities that present increased risk of severe COVID-19 (e.g. heart disease, cancer and diabetes) should be advised to postpone travel to areas with community transmission.” (Note that this was from 2021.)
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.
But things in this area are in flux. The CDC has 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 will be appealing the Judge’s order.
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.
WHO says, “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)
As of January 3rd, the Pfizer booster waiting period has been shortened from six months to five months, per CNBC. Per the CDC, the time period to receive the Moderna booster has also been reduced to 5 months. The CDC also notes that individuals who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can receive a booster 2 months after receiving the initial vaccine.
The CDC has updated its recommendations regarding second booster doses. Certain individuals who are immunocompromised or over the age of 50 can now get a second mRNA booster. There are also certain rules that apply to those who got a primary vaccine and booster through Johnson & Johnson.
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 and Osceola counties in Florida (where Disney World is located) are both currently classified as being in the “low” level.
In addition to the regular Omicron variant, there is a subvariant of Omicron (BA.2 subvariant) which has been termed “stealth” Omicron. This subvariant was first found in Denmark. According to WPTV it received this nickname because it was actually harder to detect than the original Omicron variant, but The New York Times notes that this has since changed.
WPTV notes that scientists say that BA.2 may be 1 1/2 times more contagious than the original Omicron COVID-19 variant. The Tampa Bay Times shares that there is a study which “indicates the new variant may be 2-3 times more infectious than the original omicron strain, even among vaccinated and boosted individuals. Unvaccinated individuals are also more likely to spread the new variant, compared to BA.1.”
The BA.2.12.1 Omicron subvariant has been discovered and is gradually making up a greater percentage of cases in the U.S.
The subvariant is thought to be even more contagious than BA.2 and is expected to become the dominant form of COVID-19 in the United States within a few weeks.
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 in Disney World? Keep in mind, 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 transmission last summer. 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.
Both Orange County, Florida and Osceola County, Florida, are now in the “low” COVID-19 community level category, though that can change.
Disney World has also paused most Annual Pass sales (like 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 BA.2 variant or BA.2.12.1 variant develops. Note that some international Disney parks have closed due to COVID-19 — specifically Shanghai Disneyland is currently closed, 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.