If you read any Facebook, Twitter or blog post that mentions face masks being required at Orlando theme parks reopening from coronavirus shutdowns, you’re bound to run into comments like these:
Medical research has demonstrated that face masks and homemade face coverings can help reduce the transmission of COVID-19. While their use was not recommended outside health care settings in the early days of the outbreak, guidance changed as medical researchers learned how people without symptoms of infections were contributing to the virus’s transmission.
“Both presymptomatic and asymptomatic people can and do unknowingly spread the virus to others,” Dr. Aileen Marty, a professor at Florida International University who is an expert in the fields of infectious diseases, public health and mass gatherings, told Orlando Rising. “The CDC and multiple health agencies worldwide now strongly recommend the use of facial coverings to reduce transmission of COVID-19.”
Despite this evidence, face masks have become the latest symbol of the country’s partisan divide — and theme parks aren’t immune.
Universal Orlando will require guests to wear face masks when its theme parks reopen to the public on June 5. Disney World has indicated it will do the same when its parks welcome guests again. The resorts’ respective shopping and dining complexes — Disney Springs and Universal CityWalk — already require masks.
As illustrated by online comments, a select number of would-be guests denounce private businesses’ mask requirements as an invasion of their personal liberties, similar to confrontational customers refusing to wear masks in Florida grocery stores.
Those claims do not appear to have any legal merit.
“Our attorneys‘ general take is that this is similar to ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ signs, that many businesses have, so they don’t see an immediate legal problem,” Gaby Guadalupe, spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, told Orlando Rising.
Lawsuits are pending against mask requirements instituted by local governments in Seminole and Alachua Counties, but at the time of publication, similar suits have not challenged Disney or Universal’s own mandates.
There is a common misconception that Florida’s 1951 anti-mask law in Florida forbids wearing face masks in public, even during a pandemic. But that statute, originally aimed at the Ku Klux Klan, was amended in 1981 to apply only to people wearing masks with the intent of committing a crime, intimidating others or violating their civil rights.
Since neither the state of Florida nor Orange County have required the use of face masks, the most Disney or Universal are likely able to do is ask guests to leave if they don’t follow the rules.
“We’re going to do our part, and we need our guests to do their part, too,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in a CNBC interview earlier this month.
Of course, the lack of a statewide mandate also means theme parks can stop short of requiring masks.
At Legoland Florida, for example, only employees will be required to wear masks when the park reopens on June 1.
At Fun Spot America’s Orlando location, just across I-4 from Universal, face mask rules are limited to park employees who handle cash or handle food and beverages — and guests with no face coverings were strolling the park when it opened back up on May 22.
Legoland and Fun Spot have not responded to multiple requests for comment from Orlando Rising on their mask policies.
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