Fans push back against Disneyland reopening in July amid COVID-19 fears: 'Irresponsible and greedy'

On Wednesday, Disney announced a phased plan to reopen its signature California theme park next month. Hours later, a group of fans was already pushing back, saying it was too soon to return to the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

A Change.org petition protesting the reopening of Disneyland Resort has already eclipsed 10,000 signatures. The petition, which was started by a group that wishes to remain anonymous, is asking Disneyland officials to schedule the theme park’s reopening for a later date due to COVID-19 concerns.

According to Disney’s guidelines, the reopening will start with the Downtown Disney District on July 9. From there, the Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks will reopen on July 17, followed by the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel on July 23. 

The petition launched late Wednesday night, with the goal of getting to 10,000 signatures. It surpassed its goal — and even trended on Twitter at one point — in less than 24 hours. 

“Many people have lost loved ones due to this pandemic and by reopening the parks they are endangering cast members and guests to be exposed to Covid-19,” the petition reads. “There are more cases now than when the parks closed on March 13th, 2020. Health Officials have stated that the 2nd wave of Covid-19 will be worse. So reopening before the 2nd wave even hits us is irresponsible and greedy. I understand everyone is rejoicing for the reopening of the parks but not during a pandemic where people are DYING, now is not the time.”

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

The petition is specifically asking Disneyland to reopen its facilities “at a later date when cases of Covid-19 drop and Health Officials state it is safer for everyone but to still practice social distancing.”

“It’s too early to open,” one person wrote as their reason for signing. “This reopening seems more like a ploy to open for Disneyland’s 65th anniversary and try to stir up the economy more than it has anything to do with health and safety.”

“I’m worried for my … friends who will have to be exposed to such large crowds when they go back to work,” another said.

“I don’t want to see my family members who work there exposed to COVID,” another person wrote.

But other people defended Disneyland on Twitter:

Disneyland is in Orange County, Calif., which saw a spike in COVID-19 cases in early June, according to data from the Orange County Health Care Agency. On Wednesday — the same date as Disneyland’s announcement — there were 147 new cases and 13 deaths reported in the county.

Disneyland is reopening the Downtown Disney District under guidance from local officials, a Disney official told Yahoo Life. As for the rest of its properties, they are able to reopen along with other theme parks as California moves into Stage 3 or reopening, public health officials recently told the Orange County Register.

"As we move forward, the safety and wellbeing of our guests, cast members and third-party operating participants will be at forefront of our planning," a Disney official told Yahoo Life.

What is Disneyland doing to keep employees and guests safe?

Disneyland shared on Wednesday that the company has made “enhanced health and safety measures” to promote cleanliness, physical distancing and reduced contact. “While it may be a bit different from the last time you visited, we’ve come up with new ways to create magical moments together — and memories to treasure forever,” the company says online.

These are just a few safety measures the theme park has put in place:

  • Certain theme parks, hotels, restaurants and other locations may be limited in capacity and subject to restricted availability or even closed based on guidance from health experts and government officials.

  • Certain attractions, experiences, services, and amenities will be modified, have limited availability or stay closed.

  • Character meet-and-greets are temporarily unavailable. (Characters will be in the parks, though.)

  • There will be limitations on parking and operating hours.

  • New ticket sales and Annual Passport sales and renewals are temporarily paused.

  • Select attractions and certain experiences that draw large group gatherings, like parades and nighttime spectaculars, will return at a later date.

  • Guests will need to make a reservation for park entry in advance.

  • Additional information on enhanced health and safety measures and operational changes for reopening locations will be shared soon, Disneyland says online.

What do the experts think?

It’s important to note that employees of Disneyland risk losing their unemployment benefits if they’re invited to come back to work and refuse. While laws vary from state to state, people who collect unemployment benefits are usually not eligible to continue to receive those benefits if they turn down work that has been offered to them.

But reopening Disneyland parks in a month puts the park’s employees in what could be qualified as a “high-risk job,” Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life. 

Still, COVID-19 doesn’t seem like it’s going to disappear anytime soon. “It’s important to remember that the virus is going to be with us until there’s a vaccine,” Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. “There comes a point where people are going to have to think about how to open venues and how to do it in a safe manner.” Adalja says that it’s “not in the realm of possibility” for people to expect companies to stay shuttered for months, and possibly years until a vaccine is found.

But, as with most things right now, working at Disneyland or visiting it isn’t an entirely safe activity. “There are risks to congregate gatherings,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “Certainly people have been demonstrating in the streets for prolonged periods of time. People are making their value judgments and assessing their own risk tolerance. Disneyland is in a similar position.”

Schaffner compares this situation to restaurants reopening with added precautions. “People are adapting guidelines to their specific circumstances, and it’s a balancing act,” he says. Theme parks like Disneyland are also providing employment for people who have lost wages recently, Schaffner says, adding, “they have families to support, too.”

But Watkins is wary of anyone going into crowds right now that doesn’t have to. “I definitely do not think it is safe,” he says. “People need to avoid crowds and maintain social distancing. This is especially true in light of the second surge in cases we are now seeing.”

What Disneyland does offer is that a lot of what happens there is outdoors, Schaffner says. “That reduces the risk,” he adds.

“Disney is also going through extensive revisions to operational plans to try to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Adalja says. Both employees and guests should follow them and be aware of those guidelines, he says. And, if you plan to visit Disneyland after it reopens, Adalja urges you to be “meticulous” about your hand hygiene and practice social distancing “as best as you can.”

Ultimately, whether you’re working at a place with crowds or planning to visit, it all comes down to a risk-benefit analysis, Schaffner says.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

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