OpEd: Why Is Florida Tourism Thriving, When COVID Case Numbers Are Worse Than Before?

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A group of people on a stage in front of a crowd

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In August 2020, Walt Disney World Resort had only been opened up for a couple of months, and Disneyland Resort was still several months away from opening at all. Disney World was operating at an extremely limited capacity because COVID-19 cases were continuing to rise, and there was no hint of a vaccine in sight. However, in early 2021, things looked like they were taking a positive turn — a COVID vaccine was developed and people lining up to get it so their lives could go back to some type of normal.

Disney World Cast Members Covid-19 Testing
Credit: Josh D’Amaro Instagram

In June 2021, Disney World was able to reach a new milestone and get rid of a majority of pandemic-era safety protocols that they had in place. Outdoor mask requirements were eliminated and only those who were unvaccinated were required to wear masks at all times, but Disney wouldn’t require proof of vaccination — instead, the Parks were relying on an honor system. Things were looking good at The Most Magical Place on Earth.

father and daughter wearing masks in front of cinderella castle at disney world
Credit: Disney

Unfortunately, amid those safety protocol reversals, things have not been going well in Florida. COVID-19 infection numbers are now higher than they have ever been. Hospitalizations are increasing drastically, and the state recently asked the federal government to send them a number of ventilators, as the state is running out of the medical equipment necessary to aid those infected with the contagious virus.

In mid-July, when Disney World first reopened the theme parks with a multitude of safety protocols in place (including limited capacity and mandatory face masks in all areas, at all times), Florida had a surge of COVID-19 cases with a seven-day average of 11,147 new cases, as of July 15, 2020. Now, as of August 16, 2021, Florida has a seven-day average of 29,711 new cases, per The New York Times.

So, if things are so bad in Florida, why are so many people still traveling there?

magic kingdom crowds
Credit: Anonymous Disney Guest

It was recently reported that tourism to the Sunshine State has increased over 200% from this time last year. While in some regard that makes sense, it is also surprising, with just how high COVID numbers are getting in the state. It is possible that there are several factors going into people’s decision to travel at a time when they should maybe be reconsidering.

magical express lines
Credit: ITM

COVID Fatigue

The world has been dealing with COVID-19 and its precautions for almost a year and a half. The constant worrying about being safe, wearing a mask at certain locations and not others, and fighting among the vaccinated and the unvaccinated have taken its toll on the mental well-being of many people.

According to the American Medical Association:

At this point in the pandemic, people are tired of being cooped up due to restrictions on indoor gatherings outside the home. They are also tired of wearing masks, physical distancing, being away from family and friends, and increasingly fed up with the “new normal” routines. People are experiencing a type of burnout that experts are calling COVID-19 fatigue, which can lead to careless behaviors and a sharp rise in cases.

disney world reopening
Credit: Disney

After about 18 months, people are tired of being told to stay away from people and places they love. They are tired of being told to stay home. They are tired of being cooped up. Not only that, but they are just tired, so they are clinging to the experiences that invigorate them and make them happy.

No Going Backward

Back in June 2021, Disney World lifted most of its health and safety protocols. The theme park had slowly been increasing capacity and ending its mask mandates and social distancing guidelines was a huge step toward normalcy. It is because of these huge leaps forward that Guests felt safer and happier spending their money traveling to theme parks like Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Studios Orlando in Florida.

universal orlando resort
Credit: Inside the Magic

With people once again getting a taste of what was once normal, most of them they don’t want to go backward. It is hard to give people a taste of the freedom they once knew and then tell them that they should scale back.

Disney is once again requiring Guests to wear masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status, but enforcing the rule after Guests had become used to not having to whip out their masks can sometimes be a fight Cast Members will struggle with, as mask enforcement has been met with a lot of backlash from Guests.

Vaccines Bring Safety

With the creation and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, most people feel safer than ever. That feeling of safety does not seem to be waning all that much, even though studies are showing that some (although few) people who have been vaccinated are catching the new COVID Delta variant.

Disney Vaccination
Credit: Jeff Vahle Instagram

While a huge number of Americans are either getting vaccinated or have been vaccinated, there are a number of people who are refusing to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. Unfortunately, when it comes to a place like Disney, you will not be able to tell who is vaccinated and who is not. Though Disney requires unvaccinated Guests to wear masks at all times, there is no way to enforce this policy without checking vaccination status, which Disney Parks are not doing.

guests face mask disney (left) mask signage (right)
Left Image Credit: Disney / Right Image Credit: @onemagicallife

There are also a number of people who feel that they do not need to be vaccinated if others are. However, that number is declining as this current COVID surge has been called the “pandemic of the unvaccinated”.

The COVID-19 vaccine has made many people feel invincible, and with that feeling comes more travel, more interactions, and being less cautious than they may have been before they received their vaccine.

disney world crowds
Credit: Inside the Magic Kelly C.

The CDC is currently recommending that people do not travel to areas that are experiencing a spike or surge in COVID cases — which would include Florida. However, it is a high possibility that people have gotten so used to their life returning to some sort of normal that it might be hard to get them to reverse course.

Do you think people should slow down and cancel their travel plans to places like Florida? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Inside the Magic overall.

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