The big question that many people inside the theme park industry are wrestling with right now is this - how much chance is there, really, to contract the novel coronavirus when visiting a park?
In other words, just how risky is it to visit some place like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, or your local Six Flags amusement park?
A team at the New York Times sought to identify at which businesses the virus is most likely to spread. To do that, they looked at a combination of cell phone data and survey results to assess potential for risk. In Is It Safer to Visit a Coffee Shop or a Gym?, the reporters detail what they found... and it's interesting to see where amusement parks stand in that list.
The report focuses on businesses that people are more likely to visit on a regular basis, such as restaurants and retail stores. That's where the reporters used anonymous cell phone data to track how frequently and for how long people tended to visit and stay at those locations. Then in an effort to gauge how much contact people had inside a business, the team did a survey that asked respondents to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how often they interacted with other people or touched surfaces at various businesses. They survey also asked about how much time people spent indoors or outdoors at those locations.
One of the mysteries that researchers are trying to solve about this virus is how much contact people need to have with the virus to become infected. We know that the virus can spread both through the air and on surfaces. We also know that transmission is always about probabilities rather than certainties.
That often makes talking about risk difficult. There are can be one-in-100 chance of being infected in some circumstance, but if you are that one person in 100, the odds don't mean much to you, do they? And on the flip side, if there's a 99 percent chance of an infection happening, and you are the one in 100 who skates through unscathed, well, you didn't really see the risk, right? So let's try to remember to ignore anecdotes from people who defied the odds then insist that their unique experience proves the odds must not be true.
The consensus on this virus seems to be that it needs close, sustained contact to spread effectively. That's why we've been urged to keep our distance, to wear masks in public, and to wash our hands frequently. It's all part of an effort to minimize the close contact with the virus that can come out of infected persons' mouths and off their hands.
The article's assumption is that there's more risk at businesses where you spend more time in close quarters indoors with other people versus ones where you are in and out quickly and don't interact with other people all that closely. The team looked at dozens of types of businesses, and here are the top eight types of businesses ranked for the most level of reported contact:
Granted, amusement parks rank relatively highly for contact, but the seven types of businesses ranked ahead of amusement parks all also were listed as having far more indoor contact. Only city and state parks ranked as being more outdoors than amusement parks. And it's interesting that many of the businesses ranked as more risky for contact than amusement parks are among the ones that some states are looking to reopen first, including beauty salons and sit-down restaurants.
Of course, there's a great deal of variance within the diverse experience of visiting a theme or amusement park. If you're going to Disney World and spending your day on dark rides and at table service restaurants, you're spending much more time indoors than you would if you were riding coasters at a Six Flags park. But in either case, you're also likely moving around quite a bit over the course of the day. It's not lot like you are siting in one cramped seat for three-plus hours like you would at a football game.
Guest flow also matters. As the Times article notes, "the same number of customers spaced out evenly over the day poses less risk than if they all arrive in a few short windows of time." That's why parks likely will start using virtual queuing and reservation times to enter as they look for ways to manage their crowds while adhering to social distancing rules.
But the good news, if there is good news to be taken here, is that amusement parks are far from the riskiest locations out there for virus transmission, providing hope that - with new social distancing, health monitoring, and sanitation procedures in place - parks might not have to be at the very end of the queue for businesses reopening.Tweet
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