Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., will reopen on Saturday, and Disney has been posting marketing videos online to highlight the safety procedures it has designed to protect visitors and employees.
“I feel safe because Disney has gone above and beyond what they needed to do,” an employee named Sam says in one of them while standing near Fantasyland.
Some of the 1,000-plus responses to that particular video were supportive. Others were incredulous, with people using words like “irresponsible” and “disappointing.” Disney World is reopening? When coronavirus infections have soared in Florida? “You gotta be kidding,” wrote Alexander Jones, a Seattle motion graphics artist.
The pandemic has devastated Disney’s businesses, and reopening its signature tourist attraction — with restricted capacity and government approval — is a major part of the company’s comeback attempt. But in doing so Disney is stepping into a politicized debate surrounding the virus and efforts to keep people safe, where even the wearing of masks has become a point of bitter contention.
Complicating matters, Disney is allowing people to return to a modified Disney World while other parts of its empire remain closed. “Mulan” was supposed to arrive in movie theaters on July 24, but Disney postponed the release to Aug. 21 because of surging coronavirus cases nationwide and the likely unavailability of theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, recently slowed down the reopening of theme parks in California, including Disneyland, which had been scheduled to come back on July 17.
The Florida Department of Health reported 7,347 new Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, with 1,179 in the central part of the state, which includes Orlando. Those numbers are down from last week but still among the highest in the country, leading some to question whether Disney is being responsible in opening up Disney World.
“The world is changing around us, but we strongly believe that we can open safely and responsibly,” Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park chairman, said in an interview. “For those that might have questions or concerns, when they see how we are operating and the aggressive protocols that we have put in place, they will understand.
“This is our new normal. Our new reality,” he continued. “Covid is here, and we have a responsibility to figure out the best approach to safely operate in this new normal. Businesses across the country are open, whether it’s a local pizza shop in Orlando or an airline taking on new guests.”
Mr. D’Amaro said Disney’s four theme parks in Asia had reopened “without incident.” He declined to say how many people would be allowed into Disney’s Florida parks, though he said visitors should expect a “sparse” atmosphere, rather than the usual crowds. Shanghai Disneyland initially limited attendance to about 20 percent of its pre-outbreak capacity.
County and state officials have approved Disney…