The “happiest place on earth” reopens as COVID-19 cases rise rapidly in Florida

National News

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. (CNN) – As cases continue to spike in Florida, Disney World is back open for the first time since mid-March.

Disney Theme Parks may be an escape to a fictional bubble, but no amount of pixie dust can wipe away the realities of a pandemic.

“It does feel a bit surreal,” said Erica M., Walt Disney World annual passholder.

It’s a whole new world of temperature checks, parties separated on rides, touchless payments and entry, and required face masks that must loop around human ears.

There are also far fewer people in the parks due to significantly reduced capacity and a required advanced reservation for people wanting to go in.

“I do feel a bit nervous when trying to do all the things I love and enjoy doing again, but also remembering to do them as safely as I possibly can – wearing an N95 mask to the parks, social distancing from other park goers, packing Clorox wipes, packing hand sanitizer, keeping my hands clean at all the different hand-washing stations,” added Erica M.

For locals, and theme park bloggers in Orange County, Florida, where COVID cases are rising rapidly along with the rest of the state.

“We feel safer at theme parks than we do at any other normal store or restaurant. It feels safer at the theme parks because they’re putting in that extra effort.”

He says the extra effort is more visible at Disney than he’s seen at other theme parks that reopened in the past month.

Rides are frequently stopped so employees could sanitize them.

Plexiglass is present in tight queues, something he doesn’t always see outside Disney property.

“It really blew me away that everyone was following all the rules, so I definitely didn’t expect that.”

Orange County officials were asked Thursday if they’d seen COVID cases stemming from the theme parks that are already open.

“I won’t be lying to say that we have not seen a case here and there that mentions one of the parks. But we have not seen an outbreak in any of the parks that are open so far that we are aware of,” said Dr. Raul Pino, Orange County health officer.

Disney’s chief medical officer said in a blog post this week, “We have reimagined the Disney experience so we can all enjoy the magic responsibly and that includes the many restaurants on Disney property, like Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Florida Kitchen which has a new patio and spaced out tables.

“Everyone wants to enjoy on their time here, but safely. I think together, we’re doing that,” said Chef Art Smith, owner of Homecomin’.

He says people need a safe way to get a little comfort food and magic right now.

“It ain’t not how we are in good times, it’s how we are in challenging times, ok?” commented Smith.

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