As CDC guidelines loosen, theme parks adjust their pandemic-era policies

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – As the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention drastically loosened mask guidelines, theme parks are gradually transitioning out of their pandemic-era policies.

LEGOLAND Florida ended its temperature checks Friday, following other Central Florida theme parks.

Like other parks, it is also reducing its social distancing marks from six feet to three feet.

“The evolution of these procedures has been done in consideration with local health partners and officials, as well as CDC guidelines to ensure families can continue to have the confidence to play safely across our Resort,” wrote LEGOLAND Florida spokesperson Kelly Hornick in a statement.

Disney World will end its temperature checks Sunday.

But nothing affects a theme park visitor’s day more than wearing a mask.

Universal Orlando Resort announced Friday that face coverings will no longer be required when outdoors at the theme park starting Saturday. However, masks are still required in all indoor locations including shops and restaurants, and all attractions — from the moment the queue begins until the exit of the experience.

“Based on these updates, guests are still expected to bring a face covering with them for their visit. Social distancing guidelines still apply,” a release from Universal said.

“It’s very hard and when it started, it was ok but it’s hot. They’re really strict (at Walt Disney World) and I can understand that,” said Lakeland’s Kitty Skinner.

Skinner is an annual passholder but has not returned to Disney World because of the mask policy.

“We want to get back. There’s a lot of people that aren’t coming. That’s our bread and butter. Tourism is our thing here and we need them. We need them to come back,” she said.

The CDC announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear masks almost anywhere indoors or outdoors.

Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek said capacity at the Walt Disney World parks is increasing as a result of state and federal guidance changes.

He also hinted at a maskless future.

“First of all there’s gonna be a lot more comfortable people this summer in Orlando,” said Chapek in a CNBC interview. “You can only imagine what it’d be like in 95 degrees in 95% humidity wearing a mask so we’re thrilled to be able to do that.”

Disney World is not releasing information on any mask policy changes.

“(Thursday’s) guidance from the CDC allowing fully vaccinated individuals to remove masks and the removal of physical distancing requirements is extremely positive news and as soon as is practical we will implement updated guidelines across our businesses,” wrote a Disney spokesperson in a statement.

As of Friday afternoon, its website still showed masks are required for any guests over the age of 2, whether or not they are vaccinated.

The dramatic CDC guideline changes came as a shock to some people.

“We were a little surprised,” said Julee Jerkovich with UFCW Local 1625. “I think most people were caught off guard, maybe that’s the best way to put it.”

Her union represents Disney merchandise, floral and catering cast members, most of whom have returned from furlough.

She says hers is one of five unions that negotiates with Disney and participates in a weekly safety conference call with the company.

“We don’t want to really rush into anything as far as our members go. Disney may make decisions for the guests but we have a responsibility to make sure our members are safe,” she said.

Chapek said on CNBC that 80% of its furloughed employees have been recalled to work.

Universal Studios Orlando also did not respond to our request for comment.

Its website describes new safety guidelines as “getting back to normal.”

Social distancing has reduced to three feet and temperature checks are no longer happening.

There are no announced changes to mask policies at Walt Disney World, LEGOLAND Florida, SeaWorld or Busch Gardens.

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