How Will New Covid Rules Affect Top Theme Parks?

April 28, 2021, 4:35 PM · Let's round up some of the big changes in pandemic restrictions that we have seen around the United States in the past day or so.

First up, the CDC and President Biden are now advising that fully vaccinated people can go without masks outdoors, so long as they are not in a crowd. That "not in a crowd" caveat is a big one for theme parks, however, because it's rare that you can walk into a popular theme park and not find yourself part of a crowd.

That's why Disney and Universal spokespersons have said that those parks will continue to require visitors to wear masks at all time when not sitting in a designated dining area to eat and drink. Other parks have dropped mask mandates for outdoor visitors, but with the mix of indoor and outdoor attractions in the Disney and Universal parks, it's just easier - from an operational perspective - to enforce one rule rather than assigning people to every doorway in the park and every crowded pinch point to ask people to put their masks back on. And forget about asking people without masks to show proof of full vaccination. I don't even want to imagine that guest relations nightmare.

Sure, if you've gotten your shots, go ahead and ditch the masks for your walk around the block or visit to an uncrowded city park. But let's plan - for now - to keep them on while visiting Disney and Universal, okay? And if you haven't gotten your shots and are over age 15, what are you waiting for? Get vaccinated! (I just got my second Moderna yesterday. Thanks, Dolly! I shall eat a Cinnamon Bread in your honor the next chance I get.)

The Covid situation here in California continues to improve, with the state now having the lowest Covid infection rate in the nation. Los Angeles County's rate has now dropped to the point where it may enter the state's least restrictive, Yellow tier next week. That would raise the capacity limit at Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain to 35%, from the current 25%. The switch would not apply to Disneyland, located in Orange County, which has not hit the Yellow tier threshold yet.

Universal Studios Hollywood has joined SeaWorld San Diego in allowing fully vaccinated guests from out of state to visit the park. Universal will continue not to sell tickets to out-of-state visitors, so you must buy tickets in person at the park and present your proof of vaccination as well as a photo ID. Since kids under age 16 cannot yet be vaccinated, only out-of-state visitors ages 16 and older will be admitted. Universal advises checking its website before visiting to make sure that your date is not sold out.

Finally, Florida's Orange County has announced changes to its pandemic rules, which might at some point affect the local theme parks, including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.

Where to begin? First, "79% Herd Immunity" is not established fact. I have seen estimates between 60 and up to 90 percent for the share of the total population (including children) that would need to be fully vaccinated to stop community spread of Covid. We simply do not know yet what the magic number for herd immunity is for Covid.

And one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines does not mean that you are "vaccinated," despite what Orange County's graphics imply. Full vaccination coverage - per current federal guidance - kicks in only two weeks after your final vaccine dose. But Orange County is planning to drop all mask and physical distancing mandates when just 70% of the adult population gets a partial vaccination and the county's test positivity rate drops below 5%.

For comparison, national leader California's statewide test positivity rate dropped below 5% back in mid-February and now stands at 1.3%. Meanwhile, Florida has the eighth-highest Covid case rate among U.S. states as of today.

Again, Disney and Universal have said that they are not planning to make any changes yet and will continue to consider a variety of factors in adjusting their rules for visitors. So keep bringing your masks to the parks and watch those physical distancing markers.

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