Photo: John Raoux (AP Images)
After shutting down indefinitely in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Universal announced this week that its Orlando parks will reopen their gates beginning on June 5. Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay have been empty for months following several other high-profile theme park closures.
To abide by federal guidelines, Universal outlined the additional health precautions it’s adopting during this first phase of reopenings in a blog post. Parks will be operating under limited capacities, social distancing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be enforced, virtual lines will be in place for more popular rides, and face coverings and regular temperature checks are mandatory for both guests and employees.
“Doing this the right way will take all of us — and we need everyone’s help,” Tom Williams, chairman and chief executive officer for Universal’s parks, said in a news release.
Of course, no matter how many people wear face masks (now available in all Universal gift shops) or how many reminders there are to stay six-feet apart, visiting a crowded theme park at a time when a viral outbreak continues to kill thousands of Americans each day is still risky, particularly for demographics more susceptible to contracting the virus such as the elderly and immunocompromised. Owing to that, Universal’s post includes an important disclaimer:
“Note that any public location where people are present provides an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 and we cannot guarantee that you will not be exposed during your visit.”
Universal’s plans for reopenings were approved by both Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Governor Ron DeSantis this week, though the company initially bid for a June 1 start date. Disney’s Shanghai theme park reopened earlier this month under similar restrictions, and the Mouse is expected to submit a schedule for reopening Florida’s Disney World sometime this week, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
As with much of America’s plans for reopenings, the timeline seems frighteningly premature given the struggles Florida officials have had enforcing social distancing at the state’s beaches and other Orlando attractions that have already opened their gates such as Disney Springs and Universal’s CityWalk. A spike in outbreaks seems practically inevitable, a fact Florida officials acknowledge but bafflingly seem to be okay with it (I mean, I know there is a reason and it’s “because money,” but come on people!)
“Could we see an increase in the number of cases? Yes, we could,” Dr. Raul Pino, local officer for the state’s Department of Health, said Friday per the Orlando Sentinel. “That’s why we’re so actively watching that data.”