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.
It has been a complex few years for the world and for the Walt Disney Company.
When the theme parks closed, the company suffered greatly due to the loss of a major source of income. Now, as we see record case numbers in the United States and different recommendations from health and safety officials, many are asking the question: Could the Disney parks close again? Let’s break it down.
What Was the State of the World When Disney Parks Closed?
When the Disney Parks around the world first closed in early 2020, COVID-19 was still relatively new. At the time, there was no vaccine, and health organizations around the world were trying to learn more about how to best handle the virus.
With all those unknowns, it only took about 3,000 cases of the virus in the U.S. to make the domestic Disney parks close down temporarily. When the closure was first announced it was only supposed to last for two weeks, but as case numbers began to grow, the parks stayed closed for several months. Disney World was ultimately closed for about 4 months while Disneyland Resort was shut down for more than a year.
What is the State of the World Now?
Well, if we thought things were interesting back then, we’d be shocked to glimpse into the future and see what they’re like now. Since the time of the park closures, there have been more than 62 million cases in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s almost 19% of the country’s population! In fact, over 5 million new cases have been found in the last week.
At this time, 74% of the U.S. population has had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination. In Florida specifically, 72% of those able to be vaccinated have at least one dose, and the state has had 390,000 new cases in the last week per Florida Health Department data. Over in California where Disneyland Resort is located, there have been about 360,000 new cases in the last week and 80% of people have had at least one vaccine dose, per California Department of Health data.
At this time, our country is also dealing with the Delta Variant and the highly contagious Omicron variant, both of which experts have noted spread more rapidly than the original strain of the virus. Omicron, especially, has been a driver of increasing case numbers significantly.
Interestingly enough, though case numbers are much higher than they were with the initial shutdowns in 2020, there have been fewer calls for shutdowns and larger social interventions. The Atlantic writes that “If Omicron starts to send patients to ICUs in the tens of thousands, bringing hospitals to the brink of collapse, both politicians and citizens are going to respond. But shutdowns are still largely off the table.”
What Has Changed Since the Disney Parks Reopened?
Since the domestic Disney parks first began to reopen last July, there have been quite a few changes in health and safety guidelines. Nowadays, Disney has done away with social distancing and temperature checks, and masks are no longer required outdoors. More attractions and entertainment options have returned in the past few months and capacity restrictions have been relaxed quite a bit.
Many of these safety measures were taken away just as the vaccine started to roll out to the whole population, and things have continued to change rapidly. The Disney park experience is much more full and “normal” now than it was several months ago, even though there are still some major differences.
Could the Disney Parks Close Down Again?
We’ve seen some international parks close and reopen throughout the pandemic. In fact, with growing case numbers once again, Hong Kong Disneyland is set to close this month and Paris has strict travel restrictions, though the parks remain open. Could Disney World or Disneyland Resort close once again?
As a note, closures at the international theme parks do not necessarily indicate Disney’s intentions to close the parks. Hong Kong Disneyland is partially owned by the Hong Kong government, Shanghai Disney is partially owned by the Chinese government, and Tokyo Disneyland is owned by Oriental Land Company. These differences in ownership can mean differing responses to health concerns and the closures of the theme parks.
According to the Orange County Register, “Disney’s theme parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai have faced much stricter COVID-19 restrictions than the parks at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts. The sharp contrast in COVID-19 restrictions largely has to do with the approaches taken by local governments.”
In a recent earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said that he wasn’t concerned about the Delta Variant impacting the parks or causing them to close. Instead, if case numbers continue to grow, it’s more likely that Disney will bring back some of the old health and safety measures. In fact, we saw this in particular when Disney reintroduced indoor mask requirements.
Even though bringing back mask requirements is a relatively simple change, it would be much more complicated to increase capacity limits and social distancing. However, even making these changes (if necessary) wouldn’t cost Disney as much as it would cost to close the parks again. It took the Disney Parks division five quarters to turn a profit again, and they haven’t been able to make up the deficit yet.
So looking at all of this together, Disney will likely do whatever they can to keep the parks open, but guest safety is the priority. Disney may make the call to close the parks once again if health measures are deemed insufficient to keep guests and Cast Members safe. That said, there has been a significant spike in cases in the time since the parks reopened, yet none of the domestic parks have closed again or seen much change in terms of protocols. Many scientists foresee the future of the COVID pandemic shifting to more of an endemic — meaning it’s still very much here, but it’s more manageable as a population. We’re not there yet, but a number of scientists feel it’s closer than we think. Time will tell, but given what we’ve seen in the past year and a half in Disney World, it seems reasonable to think it would take a pretty significant event to re-close the parks at this point.
We’ll make sure to keep you updated on any health and safety changes, so stay tuned to DFB as we follow along with all the pandemic and travel news.