Orange County, Florida’s top health officer expressed concerns about COVID-19 safety at Fun Spot America’s Orlando location in June, a month before a county inspection team visited the International Drive amusement park.
Through a public records request, Theme Park Tribune obtained emails mentioning Fun Spot from Orange County government from late May through July, the time when tourist attractions in Orlando first began reopening from the COVID-19 shutdown.
On June 11, Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, forwarded an email with the subject line “Is Orlando the Next Potential COVID-19 Hotspot??” The message has all identifying information from its original sender removed, as Dr. Pino said the person who contacted him wished to remain anonymous.
“But at the same time we absolutely cannot stand by and observe the reckless endangerment of the public along with potentially damaging our industry here in central Florida for many, many years,” the anonymous message stated. “The County Health Department MUST do an inspection of Fun Spot Immediately! Don’t let Fun Spot become the next ‘COVID-19 Hot Spot.’
Pino forwarded the anonymous message to Roseann Harrington, the chief of staff to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings. “How do you wish to handle this, they are not playing by the rules that we even let them set themselves,” Pino wrote. “This also points to the need of universal masking.” Orange County did not implement its face mask mandate until June 20, though theme parks such as Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando were already requiring guests to wear face coverings at the time of Pino’s email.
No replies from the Orange County Mayor’s office were included in the county’s response to Theme Park Tribune’s public records request. However, the county’s coronavirus strike team visited the Fun Spot Orlando location on July 14, a month after Pino’s email was sent, finding both employees and guests not consistently wearing face masks.
Further face mask violations were found on subsequent visits in August and September, as first reported by the Orlando Sentinel. Other parks, such as SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica Orlando, passed these surprise inspections.
“Secret shopper” reports obtained by Theme Park Tribune earlier this year gave Fun Spot failing grades on COVID-19 safety. Those visits occurred on June 6 and July 11, before the county made its own visit. Even before the mask mandate went into effect, these reports said Fun Spot was not enforcing physical distancing and distancing markers were missing from the park’s entrance and the majority of its rides.
Ahead of his park’s reopening, Fun Spot America owner and chairman John Arie spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic on his personal Facebook page, including sharing videos from an anti-vaccine group which falsely claimed that face masks can result in oxygen deprivation and carbon dioxide toxicity.
Fun Spot had not returned multiple requests for comment on Arie’s personal posts and the park’s enforcement of the county’s face mask mandate.
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