“When will Walt Disney World’s indoor mask rule end?” and “will face coverings still be required on rides, stores, etc. by Spring 2022?” are big questions now that the indoor face covering rule has been reinstated for all guests. In this post, we take a look at the relevant factors for Disney to once again drop the face mask rule. (Updated February 1, 2022.)
We’ll start by underscoring the reality that Madame Leota is not employed by this blog, which is to say that we don’t have a crystal ball. In fact, no one knows for sure when Walt Disney World will drop the newly-reinstated face mask rule. Speaking of which, if you’re curious about the current policies, see our Guide to Face Mask Rules at Walt Disney World. That covers the latest updates.
This is a fluid situation. New information and circumstances change on a daily basis, and public health recommendations continue to evolve. In fact, if you asked a dozen public health experts to pinpoint a date when face masks will no longer be “necessary,” you’d probably get 12 different answers–some months or seasons apart.
Nevertheless, we’re going to delve into the topic here, attempting our best to speculate as to when Walt Disney World may no longer require face coverings indoors at the parks and resorts. Of course, it won’t be a definitive answer, but we hope it’ll offer semi-informed guidance based upon analysis and past precedent.
The good news is that this does not require a ton of speculation–the CDC’s latest guidance sets parameters. Before we get to that, let’s cover a timeline of events plus recent developments that impact Walt Disney World’s mask policy…
Florida’s case numbers spiked, as did the entire United States. However, as of February 2022, those numbers are plummeting just as sharply as they spiked. At the current trajectory, Orange County will be back where it was from October through early December by the end of this month or early March 2022.
This brings us back to the CDC’s Community Transmission Map, which was the basis for Walt Disney World reinstating indoor mask rules. This rates counties on positivity and incidence numbers, and as you can see, most of the United States is still in the highest tier. This will change quickly given the current freefall of cases and positivity.
With that said, it’s also possible that CDC standards will be relaxed in the not too distant future, as the current community transmission metrics are outdated. These were determined prior to current vaccination and immunity levels, and Omicron further changed the equation–rather significantly–as it’s milder and less likely to lead to hospitalization. Our playbook to fight covid-19 is outdated. Here are 10 updates for 2022 explains why in greater detail.
The other change, as intimated above, is that the majority of Americans are now vaccinated or have access to vaccines. Many others who are not have acquired natural immunity via infection. Suffice to say, the United States population is no longer immunologically-naive, due to said inoculations and past infections.
Antibody levels will invariably fall over time, but thankfully, protection against severe disease still exists due to durable immune memory of B and T cells. (A component of why Omicron was milder.) This is nuance that has been lost in a lot of the doomsday reports about breakthrough cases, waning antibodies, and the latest variants.
Another development is that U.S. health officials approved Pfizer’s vaccine for kids, expanding the nation’s inoculation campaign to children ages 5 to 11. The regulatory approval gives 28 million school age kids under age 12 the opportunity to receive the protection of a vaccine.
It’s also expected that younger children will have access to the vaccine late this month or in early March 2022. Pfizer-BioNTech is expected to file a submission for emergency use to the FDA for a vaccine regimen designed for use in children aged 6 months to 5 years. Once filed, approval will likely take 4-6 weeks.
Regardless of how you feel about the vaccine and/or inoculating children, it’s undeniable that this is a big chunk of Walt Disney World’s target demographic. It’s also undeniable that the company is concerned with perception and PR. Virtually all of Disney’s audience having access to the vaccine should ease worries among some parents and make it easier for the company to justify relaxing rules.
There’s also the reality that Americans are ready to move on with life. A new Monmouth poll revealed that 70% agree with the statement: “it’s time we accept that Covid is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives.” This shows the public is increasingly understanding what our end game should be and causing a recalibration of expectations. Zero COVID is a fantasy, destined to fail even where it has ostensibly succeeded up until now (at great societal cost). The virus will become endemic, and people are reacting rationally to this realization.
This is also reflected in travel data, including Winter 2022 crowds at Walt Disney World thus far. There has been absolutely no “off-season” slowdown nor cancellations nearly on par with last year’s post-holiday surge or the Delta wave after it.
While predicated directly on CDC guidance, Walt Disney World’s rules are just as much a business decision as a safety one. The company undoubtedly is watching public polling and has its own survey data about guest perception of mask rules. It’s really difficult to envision the company going against the grain of CDC recommendations once those change again and rapidly-changing post-pandemic public sentiment, if it comes to that.
To that point, Disney is already phasing out face masks from its own stores, including shopDisney. Above is the only mask option available for purchase on the site–discounted and only available in child sizes. The last time this happened was shortly before rules were lifted at the start of last summer.
For those who are still concerned about face masks, the silver lining is that One-Way Masking Works. High quality masks are now widely available, so your safety is no longer dependent upon what others are doing–your health is in your own hands.
If anything, wearing a properly-fitted N95 or KN95 mask offers greater individual protection than you and others around you wearing cloth masks. A growing number of experts have said cloth masks are inadequate to protect from Omicron and other more highly-transmissible variants. It’s highly unlikely that Walt Disney World is going to make the rule more stringent and require N95 masks, so even now with current policies in place, the onus is on the individual to properly protect themselves, if they so desire.
(Here’s one high-quality mask we recommend. We don’t use it anymore, viewing higher quality masks as superfluous for two relatively young and healthy adults who are fully vaccinated and boosted, but they’re a good option if your personal profile or risk tolerances differ from ours. Note that this mask is FFP2 rather than KN95–most of the latter on Amazon are fakes or poor quality.)
As for when Walt Disney World will lift the indoor mask rule, it’s difficult to say. The relaxation of rules happened very quickly last year, on a timeline that many considered highly improbable just a few weeks previously. Our expectation is that history repeats itself in this regard.
Even though Walt Disney World has taken a much slower approach since late last summer, that was likely a matter of waiting to see what would happen with waves driven by Thanksgiving and Christmas household gatherings and the Omicron variant. The company likely wanted to avoid oscillating back and forth with its mask rules, making things less predictable or consistent for guests who have already planned on having the rules in place. Now that all of that is in the rearview mirror, the way is paved for quicker and permanent changes.
Ultimately, our expectation is that the indoor mask rule is quietly dropped before Easter 2022 and Spring Break season, which is a popular time for travel. We’d put the odds of the rule being removed sometime in February 2022 as low (~25%), but significantly higher–above 50%–in March 2022, as that’s when the Omicron wave should fully be over. By April 2022, the odds are overwhelmingly high that the indoor mask rule is gone…unless something goes terribly wrong between now and then.
The mask rule is resulting in vacation cancellations, unnecessary friction between guests and Cast Members, among other issues, and Americans are overwhelmingly ready to move on with life. The vaccine is now available to anyone age 5 and up, booster shots are also an option, one-way masking is a viable alternative, community transmission will again be low by then, and the virus is becoming endemic. If the these circumstances don’t trigger an end to Walt Disney World’s indoor face mask rule, it’s hard to imagine what will.