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Disney World still plans to reopen this weekend, despite Florida's surge in coronavirus cases

One family said its precautionary measures will include leaving shoes outside their Disney villa, removing and washing all their clothes upon return each day, and carrying plastic bags for used masks.
Image: Disney World Opens On Limited Basis To Pass Holders In Lake Buena Vista
Walt Disney World in Florida is reopening on July 11, despite the dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases in that state.Octavio Jones / Getty Images

Cheryl Evans is worried about the coronavirus pandemic, but she and her family are making their biennial trip to Walt Disney World anyway and will be there for its reopening on July 11, despite the dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida.

She said she has faith in Disney.

“We are worried about the virus being so on fire, but, and this is putting a lot of trust into Disney, I do feel like Disney has set up some amazing protocols to keep people safe," Evans told NBC News in an interview.

“We wouldn't go outside of Disney World ... Hopefully in the Disney bubble we'll feel safe."

Florida now has had 1,035.1 cases and 18.6 deaths per 100,000 people, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Disney did not respond to a request for comment on its decision to move forward with reopening even as cases in the state rise.

Disney worked with local officials on its plans to reopen both Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California. But the two states have taken different approaches, and Disney was forced to scrap its July 17 plans to reopen Disneyland after the state delayed issuing guidelines for how theme parks can reopen.

California, which took early steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus and has taken a more cautious approach to reopening than Florida, has had 731.8 cases and 16.6 deaths per 100,000 people. In June, cases rose by 168 percent, with over 95,000 new cases.

Evans is traveling to Disney World from Northern California with her husband; their two daughters, ages 10 and 11; and her parents, who are in their sixties and seventies. She said she's a "huge fan" of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who "is a lot more strict," and that the "governor of Florida is out of his mind."

Still, she feels confident about going because she trusts Disney as well as the safety protocols her family will be self-imposing. (Evans also has a plan for her family's return home that entails stocking groceries in advance, quarantining and taking up to two COVID tests before re-entering society.)

While at Disney, the Evans' precautionary measures will include leaving shoes outside their Disney villa, removing and washing all their clothes immediately after returning from the parks, and carrying plastic bags in which to place fresh and used masks during the day.

For her trip to Disney World, Evans is packing several different types of disposable and reusable masks for each family member, lots of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, and a contactless thermometer.

They're also packing several different types of disposable and reusable masks for each family member, lots of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes and even a contactless thermometer, which they'll use to detect fevers — one of the early warning signs for COVID.

Disney will also be checking temperatures at park entrances as part of its enhanced safety measures. Evans, who said she regularly talks online with Disney cast members, said if any member of a group registers a fever, no one in that party will be allowed to enter. Given the extreme heat in Florida in July, guests and cast members will be given a cooling-off period of 20 minutes and a second test if they register a fever on the first reading.

Disney will also be limiting attendance, performing more regular cleaning, implementing more contactless experiences, enforcing physical distancing and requiring face coverings be worn by park guests and workers.

Like Evans, many avid Disney fans are excited to be attending opening day. A quick search of social media reveals self-reported Disney cast members posting photos of themselves attending preview days this week while wearing masks. Public Disney-based Facebook groups are full of fans lamenting their inability to get tickets to opening day or excitedly sharing news of their upcoming trips.

But not everyone welcomes Disney reopening as the pandemic continues to affect large parts of the country and cases continue to rise.

Those same Facebook groups are full of Disney fans criticizing the move to reopen and questioning people who have decided to attend right away.

Nearly 20,000 people have signed a petition calling on Disney executives and Florida officials to reevaluate their plan to reopen Disney World. A similar petitionto delay reopening California's Disneyland garnered more than 55,000 signatures before Disney announced it would need to push back the date.

On Thursday, the Actors' Equity Association filed a grievance against Disney for allegedly retaliating against cast members after the association demanded that performers be tested for COVID-19. The association represents about 750 Disney World performers, who reportedly had their rehearsal invitations rescinded after the group publicly called for actor testing.

The association maintains social distancing isn't an option for performers and points to guidelines that emphasize that extensive testing and few new cases being reported in an area are necessary for worker safety.

“Seven unions signed agreements to have their employees return to work, the Actors’ Equity rejected our safety protocols and have not made themselves available to continue negotiations, which is unfortunate," said Disney spokesperson Jacquee Wahler. "We are exercising our right to open without Equity performers.”

For her part, Evans says she is "1,000 percent" certain that Disney will do everything it can to keep guests and cast members safe.

"If Disney's ready to open and they feel like that's what they need to do business-wise, let's face it, their income is coming from their theme park revenue and they're losing billions of dollars so they feel that they can open safely," Evans said. "If they're opening their park, they need people to visit the park and we're just one of those people."

The pandemic has dealt a major financial blow to Disney on nearly every front, including film and television production and distribution, theatrical shows, live sports, and theme parks. It was forced to cut executive pay and issue furloughs.

Disney's parks, experiences and products unit has been especially vulnerable. In the second quarter of 2020, that segment accounted for $1 billion in lost income — a 58 percent drop compared with the same period last year. In 2019, Disney generated $69.57 billion in revenue. Of that, $26.23 billion came from the parks, experiences and products segment.

Disney has yet to announce a new date for Disneyland in California, but plans to reopen Disneyland Paris on July 15. Shanghai Disneyland reopened in May, and Hong Kong Disneyland in June, with modified protocols.