Disney World Reinstates Indoor Mask Rule
Walt Disney World has reinstated its indoor face mask rule for all guests, effective July 30. In this post, we’ll share specifics of the policy change, plus the announcements, statements, and more from the CDC and Orange County leadership that preceded this decision.
This rule change comes after a couple of pretty significant developments in the last two days. Most recently, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings declared a new state of emergency due to new COVID-19 cases skyrocketing to a single-day high. He also issued a new executive order, the core substance of which pertains to vaccination requirements for county employees and mask requirements at county facilities. Obviously, neither of those things are germane to Walt Disney World.
Orange County had its highest number of new COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began on July 27, with 1,371 new cases. The 14-day positivity rate is at 15,58%, an all-time high in Orange County. AdventHealth and Orlando Health are nearing their peak hospitalization numbers, nearing highs last seen in January. Additionally, wastewater surveillance provides an advance warning of infections through analysis of RNA concentrations; higher levels right now signal that case numbers could continue to surge in the coming days.
During his press conference announcing the executive order, Demings stressed that it’s important to act in the best interests of public health of the local community to “avoid a collapse of our economy that would be self-inflicted.” He urged all residents and visitors to follow the new CDC guidelines.
However, Demings did not incorporate any mask mandates into the executive order, having previously conceded that he had could not do so and was only doing what was “legally defensible” with his executive order today. These limitations are due to an earlier executive order by Governor DeSantis that was signed into law and went into effect on July 1 restricting what the state’s leaders can do during pandemics.
While his hands are tied when it comes to a mask mandate, Demings did encourage all residents and visitors, vaccinated and unvaccinated, to “pull together” and wear masks when indoors. Demings also reiterated his desire for Orange County businesses, large and small, to reimpose mask rules on their premises.
Demings said he thinks “this will determine the character of our business community…If they follow suit, we’ll understand where they stand. Do they put people’s lives over profits?” When asked about Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, Demings said: “I expect all of our theme parks to follow the CDC recommended guidelines.”
In case you missed it, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidance to recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors when in areas with substantial and high levels of community transmission of COVID-19.
Per the “COVID-19 Integrated County View” on the CDC’s website, every single county in Florida, almost all of the South, most of the lower Midwest, and some of the West has a high level of community transmission. (Orange County, California—home to Disneyland—also has a high level of transmission.)
As a result, Walt Disney World has followed suit, updating its “Know Before You Go” page with rule change. Above is a screenshot of the mask rule as of yesterday before the rule change.
The text of the rule stated: “While face coverings are required for all Guests while in Disney buses, monorail and Disney Skyliner, they are now optional in most areas for Guests who are fully vaccinated. While we do not require proof of vaccination, we expect Guests who are not fully vaccinated to continue wearing face coverings in all indoor locations and upon entering and throughout all attractions and transportation except ferry boats.”
Above is a screenshot of the updated “Know Before You Go” page after the rule change, with the relevant portion highlighted.
Here’s the new text of the change: “Beginning July 30, face coverings are required for all Guests (ages 2 and up) while indoors and in Disney buses, monorail and Disney Skyliner, regardless of vaccination status. This includes upon entering and throughout all attractions. Face coverings remain optional for all Guests in outdoor common areas.”
Unsurprisingly, Walt Disney World does not offer an end date for this new policy. If the change is predicated upon the new guidance from the CDC (and given the timing, that’s a safe assumption), it would drop off when Orange County ceases to be an area with substantial or high levels of community transmission.
However, when Walt Disney World previously dropped its indoor mask rule, there was a bit of lag between the CDC’s recommendation and the rule change from Disney. So don’t expect an instantaneous change the day Orange County hits the CDC’s moderate transmission tier.
If a county has reported 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period or has a positivity rate of 8% to 10%, it falls into the substantial transmission tier. Those counties reporting 100 cases or more cases per 100,000 residents, or that have a positivity rate of at least 10% fall into the high transmission tier. The CDC recommends indoor masking for the fully vaccinated only in those two tiers. Florida is one of three states with every county in the substantial or high transmission tier.
Per the CDC’s website, the criteria for moving down to the moderate level is under 50 total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days and under 8% test positivity during the past 7 days. Low is 0-10 cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate under 5%. Only a couple of months ago when Orange County dropped physical distancing and ended its mask mandate, the county would’ve been in the low tier. So it’s not unattainable.
Given Mayor Demings’ statements about the wastewater monitoring program, it sounds like the situation will get worse before improving in Central Florida. However, there are glimmers of optimism even amid this current surge.
On Monday, former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb (who has become my favorite voice throughout this as a straight-shooter who offers nuanced analysis and tells the truth, good or bad, rather than what he thinks people supposedly need to hear) stated that he expects the United States’ trajectory to mirror that of the United Kingdom with a fall in cases in the next two to three weeks. The US has consistently been a few weeks behind the UK throughout the pandemic, so this is probably a sound assessment.
In an interview, Gottlieb told CNBC: “If the U.K. is turning the corner, it’s a pretty good indication that maybe we’re further into this than we think and maybe we’re two or three weeks away from starting to see our own plateau here in the United States.” He indicated that it’s likely the U.S. is deeper into this wave due to an undercounting/reporting of cases. This is because more people are likely mildly symptomatic because they’re younger or have been vaccinated, so they aren’t presenting for testing.
Your guess is as good as mine as to when this will happen and whether Walt Disney World will re-relax its face mask rules when it does. Regardless, we will be closely monitoring DisneyWorld.com’s “Know Before You Go” page for rule changes throughout the coming weeks and/or months, and will keep you posted with every development along the way.
We’ll wrap this up with a friendly reminder to be kind to Cast Members if you’re choosing to visit Walt Disney World. This should go without saying and is always the case, but it’s especially true now. It has been a tough year for them, and having to enforce this rule once again with fatigued and sometimes belligerent guests will not be easy or pleasant. Frontline Cast Members with whom you interact have literally zero say over Walt Disney World’s policies they are tasked with enforcing. You are not going to change anything by being rude to them, only reveal the true content of your character.