: Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando are relaxing these COVID safety protocols — will others follow suit?


Theme parks in Florida are reducing some of the protocols that workers and visitors have had to follow for the past year, which were originally put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But state regulations on measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and rules instituted by the private sector don’t always match, even in Florida, which has been among the first states to ease restrictions.

Walt Disney World

will phase out temperature screenings this month. After May 8, theme park workers will no longer need to be screened for a fever, while the requirement will be removed for visitors starting May 16.

“Since reopening, we have considered guidance from public-health authorities, government agencies, and our own team of health and safety experts as we assess and update health and safety measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the company said on its website in a section detailing the health protocols in place. “As this guidance continues to evolve, and with the support of local health and government officials, we are making some additional adjustments.”

This is not the first time Disney has relaxed its COVID-19 safety rules. Recently, the theme park began allowing guests to remove their face masks when taking a photo outdoors if they are physically distanced and remain stationary. Previously, guests were only allowed to do this when eating or drinking or when visiting a designated “relaxation station” in one of the company’s four Florida theme parks.

Universal Orlando is now only enforcing three feet of social distancing in its theme parks.

Like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, which includes the Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure theme parks, will stop performing temperature checks as of Thursday. Comcast-owned

Universal Orlando is also reducing social-distancing requirements throughout its theme parks. Now, guests must only leave three feet of space in between parties rather than six feet.

“The health and safety of our guests and team members is always our top priority,” a Universal Orlando spokeswoman said. “We continue to review the CDC guidelines and work with local health officials as we update our health and safety protocols.”

The spokeswoman added that all of the resort’s other health and safety protocols will remain in place.

Nearby, SeaWorld

appears to have also removed its temperature screenings, according to reports from visitors to the theme park. Signs in the park also suggest it is now enforcing three feet of social distancing, instead of six feet. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The changes at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando come as local health officials have reduced their requirements. Last week, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings reduced the requirement for physical distancing to three feet. The county also stopped recommending temperature checks as a preventative measure against COVID-19. Both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando are located within Orange County.

Infectious disease experts have questioned the efficacy of temperature checks in preventing the spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls temperature screenings “an optional strategy,” but warns it’s not fool proof.

“Performing screening or health checks will not be completely effective because asymptomatic individuals or individuals with mild non-specific symptoms may not realize they are infected and may pass through screening,” the CDC states on its website, adding that “health checks are not a replacement for other protective measures such as social distancing.”

The CDC recently relaxed social distancing requirements in school classrooms from six to three feet among children, but continues to recommend that people maintain six feet of distance in most circumstances including common areas and in cases where masks can’t be worn.

State lawmakers in Florida have gone a step further in loosening COVID-19 requirements. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, issued an executive order that will outlaw local COVID-19 emergency mandates throughout the state starting July 1. Previously, he banned the implementation of “vaccine passports” throughout the Sunshine State, saying that any business that requires a customer provide proof of vaccination for entry will be subject to a fine.

After DeSantis issued the executive order, Walt Disney World sent a notification to theme park visitors through its My Disney Experience mobile app advising that it was not changing its requirements in response to the new directive, according to theme park blog Inside the Magic. “We are aware of the state of Florida’s plans announced today to modify COVID-19 guidelines,” the notification read in part. “We will evaluate this latest guidance and maintain our current health and safety measures at this time, including face-covering requirements.”

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