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If U.S. Disney Parks Open This Summer, Don't Be Dopey

By Beth McKenna – May 13, 2020 at 11:31AM

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Going to a theme park during the COVID-19 pandemic would be a Goofy move.

My colleague Rick Munarriz probably follows Disney (DIS -0.75%) more closely than anyone else at The Motley Fool, so his opinion is worth respecting. Rick recently opined that the entertainment giant will reopen its two U.S. parks -- Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California -- in some limited capacity this summer. Like many nonessential businesses around the world, these parks temporarily closed in March to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Is "Mr. Disney" right or just Goofy?

Rick is probably right. The fact that the company is accepting hotel reservations at its Disney World Resort for July 1 and later suggests that a summer opening is likely. 

I believe the summer is too soon for companies to open if their businesses involve large groups of customers in one place, such as a theme park, cruise ship, movie theater, or sports arena. This is more true in some parts of the country than others. It's also more true for businesses that draw customers from a wide geographic swath -- like Disney's parks and cruise ships -- than it is for many locally oriented businesses, like restaurants. 

However, I realize that in a capitalistic society, economic considerations will soon trump ones having to do with human health and life. In fact, this dynamic has recently begun.

Person's hand turning over wooden cubes that say STAY HOME/SAFE.

Image source: Getty Images.

Don't be Dopey, Dumbo, or Pinocchio

Just because high ranking officials and CEOs declare that "the economy is open" doesn't mean that you have to immediately being participating. You don't have to do anything differently from what you're doing now, with one exception: If your workplace reopens and you don't have the option to work remotely, you'll have to go to work if you want to keep your job.

If I were at high risk of developing serious complications from a potential coronavirus infection and had a job that necessitated a lot of contact with people, I'd seriously consider leaving that job even if it meant taking a big bite out of my savings. 

And yes, having some savings also expands one's options in life. That's why everyone should strive to have an emergency fund that covers at least three to six months of living expenses. 

COVID-19 can spread (and possibly mutate) quickly 

Developing a vaccine for the coronavirus is probably going to be extremely challenging. Once a vaccine is developed, the virus could mutate enough that vaccine No. 1 won't be effective, and then we'll need vaccine No. 2, and so on.

And that's not to mention that there will likely be a big lag between when a vaccine is developed and when it's readily available to everyone. Biotech Moderna, for instance, aims to produce a COVID-19 vaccine later this year. Assuming it's successful, initial quantities will be limited and probably available only to those on the front lines in the fight against the virus.

The bottom line is that this country and the world will probably be living with one or more extremely contagious and quite virulent strains of the novel coronavirus for a long time. I've seen estimates by reputable sources of at least two years.

A not-so-pretty picture

It's troubling to think about people going to Disney World or Disneyland this summer unless they're cocooned in their cars and watching an outdoor movie or event.

Nothing so unnecessary as a vacation is worth risking getting infected by this virus. I'm not picking on Disney or theme parks in general. My attitude is the same toward such nonessential businesses as trips to the movies and jaunts on cruise ships. 

Don't think that because you're only in your 20s, 30s, or 40s and seemingly healthy that you're pretty much safe. The Washington Post recently ran an eye-opening article about previously healthy young and middle-aged adults, many of whom didn't even know they had the virus, suddenly suffering the type of debilitating stroke that usually strikes only much older folks. Medical experts are puzzled. It's not an easy read, as most of those who haven't died will be lucky to ever get their speech back.

Moreover, some medical experts are wondering if the virus could inflict permanent damage. In other words, it's possible that even after you recover from your initial COVID-19 infection, the virus could leave certain organs or systems weakened, which would make you more prone to future health problems. This is why you want to try to avoid getting infected even after so-called "effective treatments" are developed. That's going to become more challenging as time goes by. But most of us should be able to avoid large groups of people and close contact with others outside their homes through at least the summer. 

Honey, I infected the kids

My biggest hope is that adults don't risk their children's health or lives. While it's rare for young kids to contract the coronavirus, it's not impossible -- and kids have died from COVID-19. 

Accidentally shrinking one's kids makes for a fun movie premise. Subjecting them to a higher-risk environment resulting in their becoming infected with coronavirus has the potential to make for an uncharacteristic horror flick.

Person's hand turning over a cube with a W and an H on the two sides showing that's followed by cubes for E,A,L, T, and H.

Image source: Getty Images.

Health and wealth are linked

The Motley Fool's motto is "Making the world smarter, happier, and richer" -- and it's safe to say that you'll be infinitely happier if you and your loved ones stay as healthy as possible during this pandemic. In addition, you should also be richer if you and your family stay safe, as health and wealth are intertwined. Huge medical expenses can drag even insured, affluent people under, and it's much easier to thrive in a job when you don't feel lousy.

Hopefully, this article also reinforced how important it is to have an emergency fund and marketable skills. 

Granted, though, this article isn't typical for this site. I'm hoping to do a little good beyond helping investors choose the best coronavirus stocks.

Stay safe. Keep up your social distancing as much as possible through the summer.  

And fear not, investors, Disney will be fine over the long term.


Beth McKenna has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short July 2020 $115 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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