Theme parks retain COVID-19 safeguards even as some governors remove them

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday that the state would no longer require face masks to be worn in public or impose capacity restrictions on businesses. 

The state’s largest theme parks, however, won’t be changing their policies aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19. 

“SeaWorld is committed to the health and safety of our guests, employees, and the animals in our care,” SeaWorld San Antonio spokesperson Chuck Cureau said in an email to Theme Park Tribune. “Out of an abundance of caution and in keeping consistent with CDC guidelines, we will continue our enhanced health and safety measures, including masks for all guests above the age of two.”

Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Six Flags Over Texas released identical statements to the same effect on Thursday. 

Abbott’s move comes as the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations has ramped up, though the vast majority of the population remains unprotected from the coronavirus and sustained community transmission is still in place. The decision drew condemnation from doctors, teachers’ unions, local officials, and President Joe Biden. 

But Abbott is  not the only governor in a theme park-heavy state to remove pandemic-era restrictions over the objections of health experts. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to issue a mask mandate — though Orange County, Florida did so on its own — and issued an order in September that would allow parks to operate at normal capacity. 

The likes of Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld Orlando did not take up his offer  and have continued enforcing local face mask rules and keeping park capacity limited. At the time DeSantis made his announcement removing COVID-19 restrictions, Florida had reported 14,190 deaths through the pandemic’s first six months. That death toll has more than doubled to 31,955 as of Thursday. 

Not all Republican governors in states with theme parks are following DeSantis and Abbott’s example. Mike DeWine of Ohio, home to Cedar Point and Kings Island, will be keeping his state’s mask mandate in order to protect residents who have yet to be vaccinated.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has not only retained a mask mandate, but has yet to allow amusement parks to reopen at all

All states with Democratic governors have mandated masks in public areas, but only a few have not yet given parks the OK to welcome back guests this year. The most prominent of these is California Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose requirements keeping parks like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm has drawn the ire of the state’s theme park industry.

Within the industry, major park operators like Disney, Universal and Six Flags have retained COVID-19 safety measures and expect them to remain in place — in some form — throughout the year, while acknowledging that restrictions will be eased in the future.

“Will there be some overlap until we know that we hit herd immunity? Sure there will,” Disney CEO Chapek said on Feb. 11. “But do we also believe that we’ll be in the same state of six-foot social distancing and mask wearing in 2022? Absolutely not.”

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