Theme park mask requirements not likely to end soon, even with vaccine

Theme park mask requirements not likely to end soon, even with vaccine

As people across the world hope for a COVID-19 vaccine to be ready and distributed as soon as possible, what could that mean in terms of the changes we’ve seen in the theme parks so far? Will guests and employees still be required to wear masks? Will plexiglass still separate you from the row in front on your ride vehicle? Will your party still need to stand on a sticker six feet away from another party? The short answer? No one knows yet – or has announced plans for these circumstances.

While there are a handful of promising vaccines working to be distributed around the world, theme park fans are starting to wonder if they will need to get the vaccine in order to visit these vacation destinations in the future.

Theme park and entertainment industry analyst Bill Zanetti said that that decision is up to the individual theme park companies. “Some parks want to get back to normal as soon as possible, others want to purvey a sense of security and safety to guests for as long as possible, regardless if they are effective at preventing COVID-19 or not. It’s about making guests feel comfortable,” he explained.

Many people don’t expect the face mask requirement seen globally to disappear anytime soon, as it will take months for vaccine distribution and injections to take place. Even then, just having the vaccine doesn’t mean you can’t spread the virus to someone else who is unvaccinated. No one knows if that’s the case yet.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, does not expect there to be state or country mandates in the U.S. that people receive the vaccine, meaning that though many theme park goers and employees opt-in to receive the vaccine, not all will.

This is where theme parks may choose to require all guests and employees to provide individual proof of the vaccine before entering. What impact would it have on attendance and guest satisfaction and comfort?.

Many theme park fans are wondering if they’ll need a special issued card or passport stamp, similar to an organ donor verification on a driver’s license, or possibly an app that shows they’ve been vaccinated to travel around the globe and visit various attractions.

A British technology company, VST Enterprises, has created a digital health passport and wallet. The V-Health Passport records results from all global COVID-19 testing manufacturers and also has a unique contact tracing capability built within. The passport also holds test records and can be used by companies to determine if someone is allowed to travel. This passport also helps with contact tracing if the owner is ever exposed to someone with the virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously developed similar vaccination verification cards for Yellow Fever. The International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) is obtained, signed and stamped when someone receives a vaccine against Yellow Fever and is used when traveling. It hasn’t been announced if there will be a similar process developed for COVID-19 vaccines.

At the end of November, Australian airline Qantas announced that international passengers will need to have the COVID-19 vaccine to be able to fly on their planes. This is the only airline globally to announce this type of requirement so far.

Former Disney Imagineer Eddie Sotto of Sotto Studios said that removing the safety protocols in parks and having guests be reassured they are safe during their visit may take a while. “The epic horror film ‘Jaws’ turned 40 this year and there are still people that won’t go back in the water,” he said. (Eddie talks more about the new theme park safety protocols in the Fall 2020 issue of “Attractions Magazine”.)

Gaining a guest and employee’s trust that they are safe and will remain healthy from their visit will be a challenge down the road for the parks whenever they do cross the bridge of removing mask requirements, social distancing markers, plexiglass, temperature checks, etc.

Although the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has announced its initial recommendations of the order of distribution, we are still far off from seeing the effects of the vaccine in mass numbers, or a decline in cases in the U.S.

Jason Cochran, editor-in-chief of Frommers.com, who has been covering various aspects of the virus’ effects on travel, said, “Because it’s in the parks’ interest to ensure the safety of every last guest, these protocols will be in place long after the general public begins to be vaccinated.”

We asked Disney and Universal what their plans for the future were in terms of COVID-19 prevention procedures, but neither had any comment. Currently, all of the major theme parks in Florida require all guests to wear face coverings at all times except while eating or drinking except Legoland Florida, which only requires masks on their rides and indoor locations. All of the major theme parks in California remain closed.

As far as how theme parks will look over the next few years, it’s likely they’ll look very similar to now. Maybe with slightly more crowds, but it is clear that until the virus is controlled in some capacity globally, the state of the parks — be they open or closed — may remain the same.

“It is going to vary state by state, but I believe that measures staying in place will be linked to the COVID-19 numbers. As these numbers regress, measures will lift,” said Andy Guinigundo, a nurse practitioner and writer for “Attractions Magazine”. “I think a vaccine may aid in the speed at which we can get back to ‘normal.’”

While vaccines are already being distributed, with varying effectiveness, around the world, it is still unknown whether they prevent the infection of COVID-19 or just the symptoms of the virus. Until result trends can be seen, mask requirements and social distancing may very well be in place for the near future, both at your local grocery store and the theme parks.

Are you alright with all guests being required to wear face masks until the numbers are lower? Would you be OK with being required to show proof you’ve has a vaccine before being able to enter a theme park? Sound off in the comments below.

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