Where’s your face mask?
That is the question that everybody from security workers guarding major venues like Walt Disney World to the proprietors of shops in tourist towns are already asking visitors as they descend on vacation venues that had been shuttered by the coronavirus.
And it’s a question that some quarantine-weary vacationers are already rebelling against.
“It’s been a big shock to the system ‘cause we have found that a sizable number of folks coming and visiting aren’t taking the mask wearing as seriously as folks here locally are,” Ben Sproul, mayor of the scenic Kill Devil Hills on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, told MSNBC recently. “We’re in the vacation business here, so we hope that we can communicate that we really want everybody to come and have fun but also be as safe as possible.”
Over Memorial Day weekend, often seen as the official kickoff to the summer season, there was nary a mask in sight at a jampacked pool party at a popular bar in Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, video of which went viral. St. Louis County has since issued a travel advisory and the Kansas City health director has called on the revelers to self-quarantine.
But until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, Americans who learned to live with the hassles of heightened airport security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are going to have to get used to face masks to prevent this pandemic from getting worse, experts told NBC News.
“This is going to be the new normal from now on and you’re going to have to train security guards and police officers to deal with this,” said Brian Higgins, an expert on crowd management security at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
Still, he conceded, masks are going to be a hard sell because many people aren’t sure what to believe.
“In the beginning, the experts were saying it wasn’t necessary to wear the masks,” Higgins said. “Then these same experts changed their minds and said we should wear the masks. So, there is already pushback.”
Since then, Americans have also been getting conflicting signals from the top, with President Donald Trump mostly refusing to wear masks and the apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden conspicuously wearing his mask on Memorial Day, Higgins said.
“After Sept. 11, we all collectively came together, the president came to ground zero to show support for the officers and firefighters working there, Democrats and Republicans stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang “God Bless America” together,” Higgins, a former Bergen County, New Jersey, police chief who was on duty that day, said. “This from the onset became a politicized disaster.”
Disney in April furloughed 100,000 theme park and hotel workers, including cast members who play beloved characters such as Mickey Mouse, Snow White and Goofy.
Walt Disney World Resort Theme Parks announced Wednesday it would reopen the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom on July 11 and EPCOT and the Hollywood Studios on July 11; departures on the Disney Cruise Line have been suspended through June 18, according to an earlier company statement.
Universal Orlando Resort will open its three parks Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure, as well as water park Universal's Volcano Bay, on June 5. It will require everyone to wear face masks and will have mandatory temperature checks for guests. Universal Orlando Resort is owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.
On May 20, the company began a “phased reopening” of the Disney Springs shopping and entertainment complex near Orlando, Florida, that included “the use of appropriate face coverings by both cast members and guests, limited-contact guest services and additional safety training for cast members.”
On its Facebook page, the Unite Here labor union which represents 26,000 workers in Florida made it clear that “masks for Guests and Cast are mandatory.”
“I’m sure Disney will come up with a way to sell people masks, maybe ones with character faces on them,” Higgins said. “But you can’t have a rule that doesn’t have teeth.”
That said, Higgins added, enforcement of mask wearing “has to be a multilayered approach.”
“There’s going to be language and lots of signage to reinforce the message that masks are required,” he said.
And, sometimes, there will be a need for some gentle persuasion.
“You first want to reason with people,” Higgins said. “Give them several opportunities to comply. Maybe offer them a mask. But at the end of the day, you can’t allow them to participate in the event if they don’t cooperate.”
“I would advise that police not be the first point of contact on this or come down hard right away,” he added. “It’s like dealing with children, you don’t come out with an ultimatum right away.”
Higgins said he personally falls on the side of wearing a mask at public venues.
“We now know that the purpose of wearing a mask is to prevent you from possibly infecting another person,” he said. “So to me, the right approach is to tell people, ‘How would you feel if somebody got sick because of you?’
But many small businesses in tourist areas don't have the resources to hire security to make sure people are wearing masks before they go inside. In the Outer Banks, for example, the Dare County Department of Health recommends that people wear them and notes, "Your business is able to require face coverings to be worn."
It also says, "Your business can also ask individuals who are not appropriately distancing themselves to please do so."
"This may be an awkward request to make of a customer, but if you or your team members are uncomfortable, please say something," it says.
There isn't any additional guidance on how masks and social distancing should be enforced.
Dr. Jacqueline Gollan, a psychologist and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said that while some may deliberately flout the mask-wearing rules for political reasons, many others are simply oblivious.
“You don’t normally wear face masks in theme parks,” Gollan said. “And because of all the warnings, you almost get a cry wolf-type situation. Because they themselves haven’t gotten ill, they tune out the warning signals.”
Theme park consultant Brad Merriman, in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, said Disney workers are likely to have little difficulty enforcing mask-wearing because the crowds are expected to be much smaller than usual.
And Merriman, who is president of MR-ProFun, said the mask may give parkgoers a measure of comfort the way extra cops and bag checks did after 9/11.
“It gives a feeling of safety and security,” he said.
Everyone traipsing through downtown Provincetown and two other Cape Cod, Massachusetts, towns can only do so wearing masks.