My family was planning to go to Disney World this June for the annual conference for CureSMA. My youngest has a neuromuscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which impacts all of his voluntary muscles. He has a tracheostomy, sleeps on a ventilator, and eats completely by tube. In the wake of COVID-19, CureSMA decided to cancel their conference since it is essentially a gathering of high risk individuals that probably do not need to be traveling from all over the country right now. That led my family to go ahead and cancel our June trip and postpone to October, but we still are not planning on bringing our high risk child with us for that trip. We do plan to return with him in June of 2021. But, all the speculation has made me think about what Disney can do to help me feel safe to bring him back to the parks. Here are my top 3:
–Cleaning – Plain and simple cleaning procedures will help me feel comfortable. Having a child with mobility challenges helps in some ways because he is not likely to be running his hands over hand rails, touching buttons, and coming into contact with many public surfaces. However, my other kids will touch all the things. Thent they will touch their brother. Disney is probably the cleanest theme park I have ever been to, but they could still step up the protocols especially when it comes to sanitzing surfaces like handrails and ride restraints. I do not just want them to say they are cleaning more frequently, I want to see them cleaning when I am in the park.
-Data and Contact Tracing – This one is not necessarily Disney’s responsibilty entirely, but they can be cooperative and helpful in the local health department’s efforts. It will also take some time, hence us not looking to bring our high risk child until summer 2021. To feel comfortable, I need some data to indicate that Disney World is not just a cesspool of COVID-19 germs. If we see outbreak after outbreak that can be traced to people visiting Disney World, we are not going to be comfortable going. But, if Disney and the local health department are able to trace cases well and indicated that COVID-19 is not really spreading at Disney World, that will help us feel safe again.
-Not Allowing People from Hot-Spots – This one is not going to be easy or popular. But, the reality is that some places both inside the United States and Internatially are still hot spots for COVID-19, while others are seeing a reduction in cases. I really think Disney needs to be mindful of where active hot spots are and restrict travel to the resort from those areas. Non-essential travel will be in the later phases of areas opening up. But, currently not all states are opening at the same rate. Hot spots can change and likely will as time goes on. I anticipate Disney needing a task force that watches the numbers and data to guide Disney’s decisions.
There are also several rumored policies that will not impact my feelings of safety at all. Here are the bottom 3:
-Temperature Checks – Temperature checks at the gate do not help me feel safe to bring my high risk child to the park in the slightest. Not only have we likely already waited in line or been on a bus/boat/monorail with the person who registers a temperature at the gate, but everything we know about COVID-19 indicates that temperature is not a good guage for whether someone is going to spread the virus or not. The biggest issue with COVID-19 is the number of people who are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic who spread it without ever realizing they have it. Temperature checks will not prevent that from happening.
-Masks – This one comes with a disclaimer. I would feel safer at Disney World if everyone wore a mask. However, I am fearful that Americans will not be compliant with mask wearing. I see people in my local area wearing the mask over their mouth but pulling it down off their nose or pulling it down every time they talk. Americans do not know how to wear masks as part of regular life. With the need to constantly hydrate in the Florida heat and the amount of in and out of buildings that people do, I imagine that most will have their mask off more than on. Then it just becomes another way that people have their hands up by their face.
-Capacity Limitations – Limiting capacity to 50% only helps if that 50% are all actually spread out, which no one can gaurantee. It is great to be at 50% capacity until most of those people are trying to get through the turnstyles, filter into popular shows and attractions, and line the streets for parades or fireworks. Hard core fans know that people tend to tour the parks in predictable ways and will choose to go down a different path to avoid the crowd. Do you assign everyone a land at the gate? I do not think a capacity limitation helps me feel any more safe.
I really believe that Disney will put in place several new policies when they re-open. Some may help me feel safer and others may not. Luckily, there are few things they could do to make me feel more unsafe (except for maybe spraying the park with COVID-19 germs to promote herd immunity). Those of us that live with vulnerable people are comfortable evaluating risk around illness. Going to Disney World after a Pandemic will carry some degree of risk for some time, but Disney has the power to mitigate that risk and help people feel truly comfortable to “come home” once again.