The Risk in Reopening

May 9, 2020, 4:52 PM · I want to talk about an article that's been making the rounds on social media this week, because it's perhaps the best single thing I have read yet about the novel coronavirus and the specific ways that it threatens the public, with this article managing to be both terrifying and reassuring at the same time.

The post was written by a Biology professor at the University of Massachusetts who specializes in Immunology and Infectious disease and is called The Risks - Know Them - Avoid Them. I hope you will follow that link and read it, then return here as I would like to write about it here from the context of what it means for theme parks.

The key takeaway from the post is its highlighted statement, "Remember the formulae: Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time."

It's grossly irresponsible to buy into the propaganda that this virus is fake or no longer a threat - too many people are dying to say that. If you've been fortunate enough not to know anyone who's been hospitalized or killed by this disease, please give thanks for your good fortune rather than try to deny the pain being felt at this moment by so many others.

Yet we shouldn't live in crippling fear of the virus, either. While a strict shelter-in-place order was an appropriate response to this disease once authorities around the world blew the chance to track and contain it, that's hardly the only way to limit the spread of Covid-19. The professor's blog post gets into the specific ways that the coronavirus spreads from host to host, providing insight as to how we can avoid becoming infected even as we emerge from our homes.

I wrote a bit about this in my post last week, How Risky Is It to Visit Walt Disney World? The emerging consensus is that the key to stopping Covid is to keep people out of places, especially indoors, where they have sustained, face-to-face contact with others. Beyond that, it's to keep people away from environments where air or surfaces might be contaminated.

It's frightening to realize that some of the environments that the professor's post and the New York Times piece I wrote about this week identify as the riskiest — salons, sit-down indoor restaurants, and offices — are among the first to be reopened in many states' recovery plans. I fear that we are just setting America up for an even deadlier second wave of the disease, all in the name of allowing some elected officials to claim credit for some businesses making a quick buck. That's why I hope that spreading informed reports from actual experts can help keep us safe, even when our elected leaders make choices that do not.

But there is good news here, and for us, it might actually involve theme parks. Given the professor's formula, I feel a lot better now about the idea of riding a roller coaster in an outdoor theme park sometime relatively soon. If people can maintain social distancing in a park, riding outdoor attractions that get disinfected before each load, eating food picked up from mobile orders and eaten away from other parties, I think that parks can return sooner rather than having to wait for a vaccine, as some people have feared might happen.

Even some indoor attractions might be able to function safely, given proper sanitation and social distancing upon dispatch. That said, though, mandatory mask usage may also be necessary to reduce the virus' infection rate to the point where parks can return safely.

Ultimately, politicians and business people do not control our destiny. We do. That's why I've worked my whole career to help keep you informed - so that you can make the right decisions for you and your family. I hope that my coverage of this pandemic, and the links I have provided (such at this one), can help you keep yourself and your family safe... and to help direct you to the parks that will provide the safety, value, and amazing experiences that you deserve when it is time to visit them again.

* * *
Want to help Theme Park Insider in this tough time for news publications? Please subscribe to our email newsletter and forward our links to your family, friends, and colleagues via social media. Thanks for reading.

Replies (16)

May 9, 2020 at 6:09 PM

Mandatory mask usage might work if required for INDOOR attractions. Outdoors, in the Florida or California heat, it won't happen -- and it's probably not necessary.

May 9, 2020 at 6:28 PM

There goes robert. Stirring the hornet's nest again. You (unlike a lot of government officials and other news sources) have done a great job of respecting the 1st amend.

How have the elderly in florida who live in single family housing in the orlando metro area only had modest deaths? I know from personal experience driving out of WDW, a ton of them go to the theme parks. The villages exit coming from WDW is always packed. My mom lives in lakeland and people from her housing complex go to WDW a lot.

The conclusion is what I saw on orlando local news yesterday. there is growing evidence that the virus killed the first person in florida in mid december. The head of the dept of health for orange county, florida said he absolutely believes he had covid 19 in mid Jan. He said he or any doctor could not pinpoint his mysteriously harsh flu, as any more than that at the time. But. He says it was hell for a week and he "was saying his prayers". direct quote. Then he recovered within a week.

My conclusion--dense housing and dense apartment buildings drive the death rate up a lot. Gov cuomo even said a recent study showed that 66% of people who recently got covid 19 under lockdown did not go ANYWHERE except for the grocery store.

Considering the death and long term life expectancy reduction (which is a lot from much younger people) from both the lockdown and obscene unemployment we are losing (in the 40 yr term) from continued lockdown past this week. Everybody knows obesity is a killer than reduces life expectancy a lot. every day of lockdown people in the population is gaining weight that will never come off. Plus all of the mental health conditions that reduce life expectancy and kill much younger people.

Sports can still be without fans, since it's very enjoyable on tv. I.e the industry can still survive on tv only. The theme park industry is going to consider this to be a once every 20 yr event for economic planning purposes. If the parks do not get back in full operation sometime before the end of the year, they are very likely never going to create a major new ride again. why would you if you think nine months of zero income can occur once every twenty years unplanned. Plus having peak customers not come back in droves for two additional years. Let alone the growing chance that practically all cedar fair and six flags parks go out of business, let alone ever build new major rides.

Someone will no doubt say that is putting fun over lives. But as I detailed in the prior paragraph. In the long run, you are not saving years of life for the population (as a whole) with the continued lockdown. It is very arguable the final result could be negative years of life (as a result of the lockdown), after extensive studies are done of the after long lingering health effects. Let alone diminished quality of life for practically everyone on the planet from the lockdown. With the exception of a significant number of governors and mayor's who seem to be quite enjoying the executive order power they are gaining from the lockdown. without, the annoying need of getting approval from a legislature that is elected by democratic means

May 9, 2020 at 11:29 PM

Good read, Robert. Putting aside various political issues, this was very good and brings up the risks so thanks for sharing.

May 9, 2020 at 11:40 PM

@davedisney: You keep bringing up "folks gaining weight" and such. You really think people with almost nothing else to do aren't exercising in their homes? That they simply sit around on the couch all day long eating? If anything, I've seen folks noting how exercising is terrific not just for body but mental health now and increasing it there.

May 9, 2020 at 11:44 PM

@davedisney I’m with you 100%. I’ve seen a lot of stories also of people who have most likely had this mystery illness around the holidays. I of course think Covid is real and respect the social distancing guidelines in place etc. Eventually we all have to jump back in the pool but I feel that people’s fear will be driving them for a long time to come. That’s unfortunate

May 9, 2020 at 11:54 PM

Thanks for stirring the hornets nest. Your intrepid quest for reasoned, researched content is most appreciated. Speaking only of course for myself and several others.

May 9, 2020 at 11:57 PM

@Davedisney
I sense much trolling in you. Trolling leads to misinformation. Misinformation leads to ignorance. Ignorance leads to suffering.

Say that, Yoda did

May 10, 2020 at 12:29 AM

A great read there Robert. The one thing not fully developed in your mentioned article is that of epidemiology. The greater the number of people who are infected, the greater the risk of spread in any environment. To safely reopen things, control needs to be obtained first, minimising the disease burden in the community and the risk of transmission. To reopen things it is then important to test extensively and trace exposed or infected people's contacts to further isolate any spread.

As I have previously said, for theme parks to reopen safely better control of the condition needs to occur first. Unfortunately this doesn't seem to be occuring in many areas of the US. I sense a lot of suffering in the future fattyackin.

May 10, 2020 at 2:02 AM

fattyakin thinks the health director. the head health person of orange county florida is a troll evidently. My info came from him and Gov Cuomo of NY. the gov got his information from a medical study of one thousand of the newest new york hospital patients who were hospitalized for covid. I guess you are a science denier.

May 10, 2020 at 6:58 AM

>> My conclusion--dense housing and dense apartment buildings drive the death rate up a lot.

Whilst it is certainly true that being in proximity to people does increase the number of opportunities for infection, the R rate in London is lower than most of the UK.

May 10, 2020 at 8:38 AM

Davedisney - your "science" is a person who thinks he had COVID-19 and then some factual data of the spread of the virus as it comes under control in New York. Then you went off on unsubstantiated theories about why mass transit and lockdown are bad. If you're going to talk about science, get an understanding of what that is.

The reason the new numbers in New York are from in home transmission is because the transmission rate is now low. Community transmission has been drastically reduced by effective isolation strategies. New York is winning. This says nothing about high density living.

Your comments of increasing obesity due to lockdown is merely a theory. It may be true, but so may increased health benefits due to people having time to exercise or cook their own meals, improved family connections due to better communication, increased suicide rate due to financial or mental health issues or improved environment due to less flights / cars etc (oh yeah, that one's been proven). Using any of these as arguments for ceasing or continuing lockdown is pointless, its all theoretical.

Which leaves us to the balance between loss of life and the economy. Most economists don't believe the economy can effectively reopen until the virus is under control. So essentially for the best economic and health outcomes, control of the virus is essential. Control is achieved through isolation, testing and tracing - not reopening.

May 10, 2020 at 12:24 PM

It truly amazes me the number of folks going "low infection numbers means we never needed lockdown," ignoring how just maybe they're low because of lockdown. Then again, there's also the pack insisting "numbers are inflated" to mess it up.

I get it, folks want to go out but this idea that if everything reopens, life is back to normal fast is naive.

May 10, 2020 at 2:31 PM

A few quotes from the Biology professor:

"The principle is viral exposure over an extended period of time. In all these cases, people were exposed to the virus in the air for a prolonged period (hours)."

"Social distancing rules are really to protect you with brief exposures or outdoor exposures. In these situations there is not enough time to achieve the infectious viral load when you are standing 6 feet apart or where wind and the infinite outdoor space for viral dilution reduces viral load. The effects of sunlight, heat, and humidity on viral survival, all serve to minimize the risk to everyone when outside."

"If you are sitting in a well ventilated space, with few people, the risk is low."

"If I am outside, and I walk past someone, remember it is “dose and time” needed for infection. You would have to be in their airstream for 5+ minutes for a chance of infection."

So it sounds like theme parks can re-open if it institutes some preventive measures. First of all, try to educate everyone entering the park on preventive procedures and risks, through brochures, signs, etc.

I'm ok with everyone wearing a mask, at least at first. The theme parks can control queues so that people are not standing in an indoor queue for extended periods of time. People can wait outside, but still enforce some social distancing, and be called in by virtual queuing.

It sounds like, applying principles from the professor's post, that going through a dark ride quickly may not be a problem. But if everyone is wearing a mask, the risk is even lower. Also theme parks can add fans etc. to increase the flow of fresh, not re-circulated, air.

So theme parks like Disneyland could re-open, if you minimize the time indoors in queues and stores, when you are outdoors the risk is much lower.

May 10, 2020 at 4:27 PM

Robert, great article, and thanks for the link. That was the best explanation for understanding how the virus get spread that I've seen so far.

May 11, 2020 at 9:14 AM

MikeW, your comment about the fallacy of some people saying low infection numbers means we never needed lockdowns (and masks, I'd add) is spot on.
It's the equivalent of saying, "What a waste. I put on all this mosquito repellent, and for what? I never even got bitten by a single one." Duh.

May 11, 2020 at 12:34 PM

Robert, great article! Very balanced. I agree with what Still a fan said above, masks for indoor attractions makes sense for the time being. MikeW, Ragster, the problem a lot of us who have been looking at the data all along have said is that it doesn't line up with what you're saying in regards to the value of lockdown vs the harm. There seems to be a greater correlation in regards to getting sunlight/fresh air to health than there is between being self quarantined and health. Hence the more Southern states with nicer weather have had lower numbers (just like they do during the flu season). The masks, I believe should still be worn in grocery stores etc., since it appears a lot of people who have COVID are symptom free, and the masks at the very least should help those people from spreading it.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Need Discount Tickets?

  Now open, or date announced:

  Still waiting on these:

Get Our Newsletter

Read Robert's Book

Stories from a Theme Park Insider