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Disney World Orlando To Reopen Despite COVID-19 Surge In Florida


Disney World in Orlando is going to be reopening this weekend. This is despite Florida really struggling with a spike in coronavirus cases. The restart is going to be phased. Two of its theme parks open tomorrow and then two more next week. There will be limited admissions. And Disney has put in place a host of safety precautions. But not everyone is convinced. Here's NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Disney World's theme parks are not the first to reopen in Orlando. Universal Studios and SeaWorld resumed operations last month with reduced capacity, physical distancing and face masks required. Disney took a more cautious approach, in part, because it's a much bigger operation, with six separate parks and more than a dozen hotels. Disney World Vice President Jim MacPhee presented the plan for reopening recently to officials in Orlando and received quick approval.


JIM MACPHEE: We believe this thoughtful, methodical and phased ramp-up strategy for our property is the right path. Together, we hope everyone will do their part to bring the magic of Walt Disney World back into this new environment.

ALLEN: Like the other theme parks, Disney is significantly reducing the number of people admitted each day. The company won't say by how much, but Shanghai Disneyland, the first park it reopened, has operated at just 30% of capacity. In Orlando, Disney says it will screen guests with temperature checks at the entrance. Face coverings are required. Social distancing is being enforced throughout even in Disney's often long lines.

TOM CORLESS: I don't think people had a hard time keeping space from each other.

ALLEN: Tom Corless runs a news website devoted to covering Disney World, wdwnt.com. His reporters were at the parks for reopening previews this week for employees and annual pass holders. There are social distancing markers throughout the parks. In the queues for some attractions, plexiglass shields keep the lanes separated. On the rides, Disney is putting distance between groups. On Pirates of the Caribbean, for instance, Corless' reporters saw just one or two groups seated per boat.

CORLESS: Then there's some crazier ones, like the Jungle Cruise. They've actually installed plexiglass dividers all through the boat. And there's some rows of the boat you can't sit in. And it looks kind of crazy.

ALLEN: Not all attractions are available. Disney discontinued the nightly fireworks displays and daily parades of its famous characters, features that attract huge crowds that even Disney might not be able to control. Another thing missing are the shows. Disney has been unable to come to an agreement with Actors' Equity, the union representing some 750 performers at the parks.

According to union president, Kate Shindle, the impasse is over measures to protect the health of performers. Unlike Universal, where performers are wearing face masks, Shindle says Disney wants actors to be onstage without face coverings. And, she says, the company has refused to test her members for the coronavirus. Performer, she says, are especially vulnerable.

KATE SHINDLE: We come into contact with each other. We touch. We dance together. In that context, making sure that people had access to testing to ensure that they weren't either becoming sick themselves or passing on the virus to other performers or, certainly, the public, was incredibly important to us.

ALLEN: If previews are an indication, many annual pass holders - a hardcore group of Disney fans - are ready to return. There is criticism and disbelief that Disney is reopening its Orlando parks on a week when Florida registered a record 60,000 new cases of COVID-19. But elected officials and health experts they consult mostly approved Disney's reopening. Here's Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.


RON DESANTIS: You can have society function in a way that keeps people safe. And when you have all the different procedures that they have in place, it's a safe environment. Disney, I have no doubt it's going to be a safe environment.

ALLEN: At this point, at least, officials on the West Coast don't share the Florida governor's confidence. Plans to restart Disneyland this month in California were put on hold while the state develops guidelines for reopening theme parks there.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.