Guests have been enjoying Disney's (DIS 0.09%) popular Florida theme parks this summer without mask requirements in most circumstances. A surge in new cases in the Sunshine State could end that perk before the end of summer.
Florida's Department of Health reported more than 73,000 cases for the week on Friday, a sevenfold increase from when the state began releasing case counts weekly in June. With average daily case counts approaching peak January levels, it wouldn't be a surprise to see restrictions tightening up instead of loosening up the way we've seen in recent weeks. In short, you may want to pack some extra masks along with your mouse ears for your next Disney World vacay.
Hoping for the best
Theme parks have been trying to get back to normal in Central Florida this summer. We've seen Disney World, Comcast's (CMCSA -0.02%) Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) do away with temperature screenings and increase their daily guest capacity levels. Disney is the only one requiring guests to make park reservations in advance now, as SeaWorld recently suspended that crowd-control platform.
Requirements for face coverings have also evolved rapidly since just before Memorial Day weekend. Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld Orlando initially allowed visitors to remove their masks while outside, eventually updating the requirement to allow vaccinated guests to keep them off in ride queues and in the attractions themselves. Right now the only time a face covering is required at any of three leading theme parks operators is at Disney World when patrons are on the monorail, ferry boat, or Disney resort bus to get to or from one of the four gated attractions.
We're already starting to see restrictions kick back in, even in states where new COVID-19 cases aren't skyrocketing the way they are in Florida. Comcast's original Universal Studios Hollywood in California has returned to requiring face coverings at all indoor buildings.
Florida isn't California. The state allowed its theme parks to open nearly a year before the country's most populous state followed suit. However, with the Delta variant spreading, there will come a point when Disney, Comcast, and SeaWorld will have to respond to the crisis if case counts keep climbing above the current six-month high.
Nobody wants to see a mask mandate. Guests prefer the freedom to decide their exposure levels. The theme park operators prefer maskless visitors, as they will spend more time in the gated attractions and money on food and snacks. However, with Florida vaccination rates slowing and shot approvals for kids under 12 still likely to be months away, the way things play out may not be up to theme park fans or the travel and tourism stocks that operate them.