There’s another health safety measure Walt Disney World could soon drop, following Orange County’s announcement earlier this week of an immediate relaxation to physical distancing. In this post, we’ll share the details and when or if Disney might make a change.
In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a number of developments on the health safety protocol front at Walt Disney World. Beverage stations have been restored to their normal self-service status, portable hand washing locations that were added shortly before the closure have been removed, face masks can now be removed for outdoor photos, and there have been other little ‘quality of park visit’ improvements that are more significant than they might seem.
Conversely, other things have not changed–or are moving more slowly than we’d like. This week, the CDC issued new mask guidance that is very conservative and will not impact Walt Disney World. Following that, the Transportation Security Administration extended a federal requirement that travelers on buses, trains, flights, and at airports wear face masks. The rule will now be in effect through September 13, 2021. Obviously, that doesn’t directly impact Walt Disney World, but it’s perhaps something of a window into future expectations for guidance on mask-wearing in crowded indoor spaces.
For those who haven’t visited since Walt Disney World reopened, one of the less-discussed policies is that temperature screenings are required for entry to some locations via no-touch thermometers. This includes the Walt Disney World theme parks, the Disney Springs area, and table-service restaurants at Disney hotels (as well as several third party ones).
Here’s text of the rule from DisneyWorld.com: “Based on guidance from health authorities, anyone displaying a temperature of 100.4 F or above will be directed to an additional location for re-screening and assistance. Those with temperatures 100.4 F or above will not be allowed entry; those in their party will not be allowed entry either.”
Now, health authorities are advising otherwise. Orange County Department of Health Director Dr. Raul Pino told WFTV’s Lauren Seabrook that businesses within the county no longer need to perform temperature checks on guests prior to entry.
Dr. Pino said that temperature checks are not necessary, and that he is seeing too many places waste resources on something that “makes no difference.” Accordingly, the Florida Department of Health is no longer recommending temperature checks.
Once again, we’ll offer the important caveat that Walt Disney World’s rules are not predicated exclusively on guidance from or rules issued by Orange County or Florida. In addition to local and state government health authorities, Disney also relies upon the CDC, plus the company’s internal team and its Chief Medical Officer’s advice.
In other words, Dr. Pino’s statements and the Florida Department of Health recommendation should not be construed to mean Walt Disney World will change its policy simultaneous with this recommendation. The state and county rules and guidance are significant as they establish the earliest possible timeframes for Walt Disney World to relax or lift its own health safety protocol.
It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando do with this new recommendation from Dr. Pino and the Florida Department of Health to stop doing temperature checks. As with physical distancing, we suspect Walt Disney World will follow the lead of Orange County because it’s advantageous to do so and offers the company “cover” for the decision.
With physical distancing, we speculated that Walt Disney World would wait to make any change until the dust has settled on the opening of Disneyland. The company won’t want to draw positive attention away from that event with potentially sensational headlines. They’ll probably wait a little before having inconsistent official policies between the two coasts (it’s inevitably going to happen, though). Same goes here.
Long before the parks even had reopening dates, on April 8 of last year we posted What Operational & Health Safety Changes Will Disney World Make to Reopen? This offered a ton of speculation on how things would change post-lockdown based on things that were already happening elsewhere around the world at the time.
That article also pointed out that in an interview with Bob Iger, he said “people will have to feel comfortable that they’re safe” before things return to normal. Iger is incredibly careful with his words (one reason he’s probably doing interviews instead of Chapek), and his use of feel comfortable was not by accident.
I dedicated much of that same article to post-9/11, and wrote: “Whatever policies and operational changes Walt Disney World and Disneyland implement will likely be about assuaging minds and creating the perception of safety. Temperature checks are not wholly effective–they’re about mitigation, not blanket safety. As with the pejorative ‘security theater,’ expect ‘health security theater’ to be a term that enters our cultural vernacular.”
The term ended up being dubbed “hygiene theater,” but otherwise that was right on the money. (I wish it weren’t–I’m still trying to convince family members that they should really cool it on the hand sanitizer.)
Temperature checks never actually were particularly efficacious, and I don’t think many people would argue otherwise. Even last year, the consensus was that they offered minor mitigative benefits at best, and an emboldening illusion of safety at worst.
There were initial concerns among readers here about overheating and being turned away simply by virtue of Florida being really hot, but I haven’t heard a single report of that happening. (Sarah had to use the ‘secondary check’ tent one time because we walked from EPCOT to DHS on a really hot day and that happened, but she was quickly given the all-clear.)
In practice, temperature checks have largely been inconsequential and not nearly as controversial as face masks or the vast majority of other health safety protocol and rules implemented by Walt Disney World. They’re a brief inconvenience if the line is backed up, but otherwise pretty mundane.
To their immense credit, Walt Disney World’s temperature checks did give us the viral moment of a guest being banned for refusing a temperature check, yelling “I paid $15,000. You can’t trespass me for paying $15,000” as he was being arrested. (Print out that story now–otherwise, a couple decades from now when you tell future generations about it, they’ll say “sure grandma, let’s get you to bed.“) That’s probably the biggest lasting legacy of the temperature checks.
In any case, the temperature checks made sense from a feeling safe perspective for a period of time when Americans were uncomfortable traveling and overwhelmingly opposed to visiting theme parks. Public sentiment has shifted dramatically in the ensuing months.
Morning Consult has been gauging when consumers will return to normal activities, like attending movie theaters, concert venues, and amusement parks. After bottoming out at 16% in the beginning of January, that number now stands at 41% of the population. That will only continue increasing with vaccine rollout and as cases continue falling, and also now that the nation’s most populous state has allowed theme parks to reopen. As more people see and hear that they’re demonstrably safe, there will be continued increases in those who feel comfortable attending. That makes the theater side of health safety less and less “necessary.”
Ultimately, while this statement from the Department of Health provides useful cover for a policy change, I think that potential guest perception and comfort will be Walt Disney World’s primary consideration when determining whether to remove temperature screenings. It’s probably already to the point now where it’s needless friction for most guests rather than a feeling of safety. As such, I’d expect temperature screenings to be dropped before the end of May 2021.
There’s also the matter of cost. I was recently speaking with someone well-connected, who asked me to guess what Walt Disney World spends per day on temperature checks. I was off by five figures and, frankly, would not have believed him were he not a credible source. Let’s just say that if Walt Disney World did want to bring back Epcot Forever this summer (that’s a big “if”) but needed to scrounge around in the budget to pay for it, there’s an obvious candidate for something that could be cut to essentially fund the fireworks.
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Any predictions on if or when Walt Disney World will remove temperature checks? Think any Central Florida theme parks will use Dr. Pino’s statements to justify dropping temperature checks? Do you think they offer potential guests comfort, or are they viewed as a hassle at this point? Please keep the comments civil. This is not the place for arguing about efficacy, politics, and so forth–all such comments will be deleted, irrespective of perspective. You are not going to change anyone’s mind via the comments section on this blog, nor are you going to change Disney’s rules or public policy. If you wish to contest this, rather than yelling into the internet abyss, have your voice heard in a meaningful way by contacting Disney or your local elected officials.