“When will Walt Disney World’s indoor mask rule end?” and “will face coverings still be required on rides, stores, etc. in Fall 2021 or 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 July 30, 2021.)
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 wondering how face covering rules have changed as of late July, 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. (The CDC updates their guidance monthly!) 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 credible sources.
The good news is that this does not require a ton of speculation–the CDC’s latest guidance sets clear parameters. Before we get to that, let’s start with a quick look at why nothing else really matters at this point.
Most recently, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings declared a new state of emergency due to new cases skyrocketing. This did not include a new face mask mandate because the mayor determined he could not do so under Florida law. This is 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.
Private businesses can still operate with any self-imposed restrictions under Florida’s reopening rules. This means Publix, Walt Disney World, or any other business in the state can still deny entry to those not wearing masks, or following any other rules. This isn’t anything new or novel. Those same businesses could deny entry to potential patrons not wearing shirts or shoes, despite there being no state-wide law requiring either of those articles of clothing, either. This is why Walt Disney World reinstated its indoor mask rule but Universal Orlando did not.
Next, there’s the business or economic rationale for Walt Disney World’s face mask rule. They would never publicly state as much, but these rules are undoubtedly shaped by Disney’s reputation as a safe, family-friendly company that goes “above and beyond.”
Walt Disney World’s health protocol is about safety on its face, but is also a calculated business decision. In looking at public health surveys broken down by age, income, and education levels from last summer, it’s no surprise that Walt Disney World made the decision and implemented the rules they did. It’s also no surprise that Walt Disney World removed rules when it did earlier this summer.
One year later, public sentiment has changed dramatically. While under 20% of Americans were comfortable visiting theme parks last summer (the number bottomed out at 16% in January), the vast majority are now comfortable attending per polling from Morning Consult.
Moreover, mask sentiment has changed with widespread vaccine availability. There has always been a vocal minority of Americans who opposed any masking requirements, but they’re now joined by many vaccinated Americans. To that point, the number of Americans who self report masking when leaving home has plummeted per Monmouth’s polling. This makes sense given widespread vaccine availability and the reality that wearing masks is largely for the benefit of others. It’s thus understandable that vaccinated people wouldn’t want to mask up for those who choose to remain unvaccinated–and the latter group largely does not care whether others mask in their presence.
In short, Orange County cannot mandate masking, the state of Florida has expressed absolutely no desire to do so, and it’s highly unlikely that Walt Disney World voluntarily wants to revert to past policies given current consumer sentiment.
That leaves CDC guidance as being what dictates Walt Disney World’s face mask rules and recommendations at this point.
In case you missed it, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated 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. Thankfully, there are objective metrics for determining where each county falls in these tiers
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.
As of July 30, 2021, Orange County is still in the midst of its summer surge. Both the county and state have had their highest numbers of new cases since the pandemic began in recent days. The 14-day positivity rate is over 15%, 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. In fact, Orange County Utilities is seeing a 924% increase of infections being detected through waste. This suggests the situation will get worse in early August 2021 before improving in Central Florida. With that said, there are glimmers of optimism even amid this current spike.
First, several other southern states are showing signs that they’ve already peaked. Likewise, cases in the United Kingdom peaked two weeks ago and have decreased for the past week, with the decline being just as sharp as the spike.
Even amidst the surge, the UK government dropped most of its rules, with the belief that the likelihood of a significant wave of deaths or hospitalizations was low due to a high vaccination rate (over 70% of adults) that would limit the risk of serious illness, even if it did not fully stop new infections. It would appear that assessment has been vindicated. Although deaths lag cases, there has not been the significant spike of deaths in the United Kingdom following the latest wave of cases there.
In the United States, former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb 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. (This would also explain some of Central Florida’s wastewater stats.)
Ultimately, none of that is definitive “proof” that cases will drop in Central Florida, that Orange County will qualify for the moderate tier, or that Walt Disney World will end its newly-reinstated indoor mask policy by late August 2021. However, those trends coupled with past precedent are signals that all of those things are more likely than not to occur.
At this point, no one can definitively predict a date when face masks will no longer be required indoors at Walt Disney World. With that caveat out of the way, if I were visiting between now and early September 2021, I’d bank on masking indoors. If I had a trip planned for mid-September 2021, my assumption would be that face masks probably will not be required indoors. If I had a trip planned for October 2021, I’d be even more confident in that assessment.
Between observable trends in data and past patterns, it seems highly unlikely that face masks will be required indoors for the start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary on October 1, 2021. With that said, if the CDC maintains its current framework for indoor mask recommendations and Walt Disney World continues to follow that guidance, it’s conceivable that indoor mask rules will make a return in late December 2021 or early January 2022. Past precedent and seasonal trends also suggest that’s a possibility. Other variables–including pediatric vaccine availability–complicate that analysis and make such a prediction more difficult and premature.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!