Florida SeaWorld parks reopen with masks, temperature checks

MIKE SCHNEIDER

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Two more Florida theme parks, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, opened Thursday after being closed since mid-March because of the coronavirus.

Both reopened their gates with new restrictions to safeguard against the spread of the virus.

Reservations are now required to enter the parks in order to limit capacity for social distancing. But SeaWorld Orlando will be closed for the foreseeable future on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Busch Gardens on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for extra cleaning.

Visitors age 2 and up will be required to wear face masks and everyone will have their temperature screened at the parks’ entrances.

The openings of the parks owned by SeaWorld Entertainment come as Florida’s theme parks industry is coming back to life. Universal Orlando Resort reopened last week after being closed since March, and Walt Disney World theme parks will be welcoming visitors back next month.

Bars, movie theaters and other entertainment venues in Florida were allowed to reopen last week with restrictions, and restaurants and shops have been back open for weeks with limits on capacity. Those business re-openings have allowed some workers to go back to work and that was reflected Thursday in a U.S. Department of Labor report that showed more than 110,000 Floridians filed for new jobless claims last week, down from more than 207,000 claims in the previous week.

SeaWorld Entertainment, which operates 12 theme parks across the U.S., said it was losing $25 million a month and was forced to furlough 95% of its workforce with its parks idled. Before the parks closed in March, the company was off to a strong start to 2020 with record-setting attendance and revenue in January and February, according to its quarterly financial report.

As of Thursday, Florida had more than 69,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, a one-day jump of almost 1,700, the highest reported in a single day since the state’s first cases were discovered in early March. The state had almost 2,850 coronavirus-related deaths. While some of the increase in cases is due to expanded testing, the percentage of positive tests has grown from 2.3% two weeks ago to more than 4% this week.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in weeks, though it can be fatal or cause severe illness in some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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