Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Breaking: Disney Eliminates Indoor Mask Policy



Disney is officially eliminating the indoor mask mandate at both of its domestic parks effective Thursday February 17.  Here is the official statement from Disney:


Beginning February 17, 2022, Face coverings will be optional for fully vaccinated Guests in both outdoor and indoor locations. We expect Guests who are not fully vaccinated to continue wearing face coverings in all indoor locations, including indoor attractions and theaters. Face coverings will still be required by all Guests (ages 2 and up) on enclosed Disney transportation, including Disney buses, monorails, and Disney Skyliner.


To review, upon reopening after the Covid-related closure, masks were required EVERYWHERE at Walt Disney World - indoors and outdoors.  These protocols were in place, along with other restrictions, such as social distancing markers and capacity limitations.  Once case numbers started declining, Disney revised their policy to first allow masks to be removed for outdoor photographs, and then again to be for indoors only.  There was a brief window of a couple of months when, following CDC guidelines, Disney removed the requirement for all vaccinated people in all locations, indoors and outdoors, except on Disney transportation.


When the CDC revised their recommendations in July, Disney reinstated the indoor mask requirement for all guests regardless of vaccination status.  That policy has remained in place until now.  It is notable that Universal Orlando, Disney's biggest market competitor, did NOT revise their mask policy at the time and instead simply "strongly recommended" masks at indoor locations.  Universal eventually reinstated their policy as Omicron surged but just last week, removed it again.  


It appears that Disney has followed suit here, not just with Universal but with many states, including traditionally Democrat governed ones, in loosening up restrictions as Omicron has subsided across the country.  By removing their mask policy now, however, there is one important distinction to be made - this is the first time that Disney has unilaterally made this decision, not waiting for updated guidance from the CDC, which had been their barometer previously.


The CDC recommendation is based on "community transmission" and the metrics that they use are largely outdated, especially after Omicron.  Whether the CDC changes their guidance now in light of many states and businesses taking it upon themselves is a bigger question, and one that I'm certainly not qualified to answer.


Another interesting note about Disney's new mask policy is that it will apply to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland.  When Walt Disney World essentially went mask optional last Spring/Summer, Disneyland still required them indoors.  This would be the first time since the reopening that masks would not be required indoors in the California park.

 

You'll note that the language specifies vaccinated guests only, but since Disney can not and will not ask for your proof of vaccination, it is essentially the honor system.  I can't tell you what to do here, but consider this when making your plans. The mask mandate still applies to Disney transportation; if you're wondering why, I suspect it has to do with the nationwide mandate on public transportation, which currently is set to expire on March 18, though that may be extended.  It may seem like a strange nod to safety if masks only have to be worn in some very specific circumstances, but Disney will say this one is out of their hands (for now).


I'm going to tread carefully when it comes to commentary here, because masks have been a hot button issue nationwide and certainly a lightning rod for message boards and social media discussions.  What I will say is that going to a theme park is a luxury, not a need.  Wearing a mask at a grocery store is different than wearing one at a concert or sporting event, and a trip to Disney is much closer to the latter than the former.  If you're planning a trip now and are hesitant given the new rule, consider whether you can live with the new policy (the same held true for when it was at its most restrictive).  I would also take comfort in the fact that one way masking, particularly with an N95, is quite effective.  


If you're looking for a return to normalcy, masks being removed is one of the clearest visual signals that we're getting there.  Hopefully things continue to go well and the policy doesn't need to be updated yet again.

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