REUTERS/Gregg Newton

Take a gander at any of the public social media groups for enthusiasts of Orlando, Florida’s Walt Disney World and you’ll find a common refrain: the theme park, which reopened on Friday amid a COVID-19 catastrophe, has super-short lines for all its top roller coasters right now.

What Disney World Staff Fear Most as It Barrels Toward Reopening

Disney World closed in mid-March, when COVID-19 cases began sweeping the country. Then on Friday, the same day Florida reported its largest single-day increase in the virus and the first day the U.S. reported more than 70,000 cases, Disney World reopened its gates.

The reopening also comes one day after unionized Disney staff lobbied, unsuccessfully for COVID-19 testing. The result, say Disney megafans who visited on reopening day, is a weirdly empty park.

Distanced Disney rules, some fans say.

“Ummm Disney, can you be like this all the time!??” one person posted in a public Disney group, alongside pictures of virtually non-existent lines for popular rides.

“Walking onto every ride with 5 mins wait if that!” another wrote. “I wish everyday was like that.”

Some shared wait-time maps of Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, which showed 5-minute waits on all major attractions. Others commented that plague-Disney was a great way to see the park “without the crowds” and expressed amazement that Disney World’s typically in-demand tickets were so readily available for the rest of 2020.

Some of the emptiness is the result of Disney World’s safety measures as COVID-19 cases see a frightening surge in Florida. Face masks are required in the park (although not elsewhere in Florida), and visitors will have their temperatures checked before entering.

Although Disney-goers could previously travel between the theme park’s distinct sections (like Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom), inter-park travel is now limited. Disney World has also changed its programming, eliminating large parades and fireworks shows to discourage large crowds.

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Still, questions abound about whether the parks will be able to avoid COVID-19, especially for employees who work there full-time. A recent Disney World promotional video might have accidentally inspired more fears than it soothed.

The unsettling video, which featured masked Disney workers saying “welcome home” is “the scariest thing I’ve seen in weeks,” an NPR host noted on Twitter.

Some 100,000 Disney World employees have been furloughed since April. The precarious employment adds to pre-existing economic strain for park workers, some of whom already experience food scarcity and sleep in their cars, New York magazine noted.

Some Disney World employees aren’t returning at all after they demanded more routine COVID-19 testing. The Actors’ Equity Association, which represents some of Disney World’s character actors, released a statement on June 25, saying it was “unclear how Disney World can responsibly move toward reopening” with COVID-19 cases spiking in Florida.

“For weeks, we have made it clear to Disney that testing is a fundamental part of maintaining a safe and healthy environment for everyone, from the guests to the cast,” Mary McColl, the union’s executive director, said in the June 25 statement.

“It is deeply disturbing that while coronavirus cases in Florida surge, Disney is refusing to provide regular testing to one of the few groups of workers in the park who by the very nature of their jobs, cannot use personal protective equipment. Now is the time for Disney to pause, focus on the science and put the safety of their actors and stage managers first by making regular testing available.”

The following day, Disney rescinded its re-employment call for workers represented by the Actors’ Equity Association. The union has since filed a grievance with Disney World, accusing it of “retaliat[ing] against workers fighting for a safe workplace during this pandemic.”

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