Orange County Ending All Physical Distancing & Mask Mandates on June 5
Mayor Jerry Demings held his “State of the County” press conference on June 4, 2021 during which he announced that Orange County will enter the third and final phase of the reopening plan for returning to normalcy, totally dropping face mask mandates, physical distancing, and all other protocol on Saturday, June 5, 2021. This paves the way for an end to health safety rules at Walt Disney World, which calls Orange County, Florida home.
Let’s start with a brief recap of Mayor Demings’ reopening plan. Orange County first announced this three phased plan to gradually lift all health safety measures just over a month ago. At that point, physical distancing was immediately reduced from 6 to 3 feet in all settings. Universal and Walt Disney World quickly followed suit and announced their own reductions to physical distancing.
Orange County then hit phase 2 in mid-May, which resulted in the outdoor face mask mandate being lifted. Within hours of that Friday afternoon press conference, both Universal and Walt Disney World followed suit, announcing that masks would be optional outdoors for guests starting the very next day. You can probably already see where we’re going with this…
Last Friday, heading into Memorial Day weekend, Universal Orlando effectively dropping its face mask rule. Universal announced that face coverings are no longer required for fully vaccinated guests, indoors or outdoors. Universal further stated that it would not require proof of vaccination, essentially ending enforcement of the face mask rule.
At that point, Orange County had not yet announced phase 3 of its reopening plan, so Universal’s announcement might’ve seemed premature. However, the county actually had already qualified for the third phase, but had chosen not to announce it–and actually cancelled its health briefing for the first time in 64 weeks.
Then on June 2, Mayor Jerry Demings held a press conference, which we assumed was to announce the final milestone in Orange County’s plan. However, he instead said that the county would qualify for phase 3 after the 14-day rolling positivity rate has been 5% or below for 14 consecutive days (so 14 days twice, for some reason).
That double 14 requirement was not previously contemplated by executive order or the reopening plan, but whatever. The positivity rate’s drop clearly outpaced vaccine uptake forecasts. It’s understandable that Orange County would inch the goalposts back a bit given that the county is lagging behind nationwide vaccination goals.
Moving forward to this morning’s “State of the County” event, Mayor Demings revealed that Orange County would enter the third and final phase of its reopening plan as of Saturday. This comes as 55% of Orange County’s population age 16 or older has received at least one dose and the county’s test positivity is 4.5% as of this week.
As a reminder, the third phase is reached when 70% of the population age 16 or older has received their first dose of the vaccine or Orange County’s 14-day rolling positivity rate is 5% or below. The third phase of this plan means that the face mask mandate is lifted indoors for everyone (without regard to vaccination status), physical distancing is dropped, and no other health safety rules remain in effect.
This comes at a time when Florida’s case numbers continue to fall. The state’s average daily case numbers have dropped 43% in the last two weeks, with 8 new cases per day for every 100,000 people. Deaths and hospitalizations are also down dramatically.
The story is similar throughout the United States, with every important metric at its lowest level since March of last year. While the pace of vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks, approximately 63% of adult Americans have received at least one shot. This is the sole explanation for low numbers that will continue to drop and stay low.
The United States has set a goal of getting at least one shot into the arms of 70% of adults by July 4. At the nation’s current pace, that’ll be reached–but just barely. In addition to that, credible estimates from the CDC and other health agencies put those who have been infected at 30-40% of the adult population.
Between vaccinations and natural immunity, the United States is already in a solid position–hence the current decrease. By the start of July 2021, between 70% and 75% of the entire population–not just adults–will have some form and degree of immunity based on conservative math of the above numbers. It’s likely there will still be some localized flare ups this summer and winter in areas of the South and other pockets of the United States where vaccine numbers are lagging far behind, but that does not include Orange County.
Irrespective of rules or lack thereof, these numbers alone should be reassuring to anyone planning a Walt Disney World trip–or doing literally anything in public this summer.
There has been extensive dialogue about different “tools in the kit” to fight spread, with things like masks and vaccines often mentioned together. We’ve previously lamented the unfortunateness of this false equivalence. While they’re both useful, not all tools are of equal utility. If the vaccine is a tower crane, face masks are large sporks. Immunity is our way out of this. The various NPIs have been duct tape–temporary and imperfect stopgap measures.
But I digress. As we’ve pointed out countless times now, Orange County’s rules are significant as they establish the earliest possible timeframes for Walt Disney World to relax or lift its own health safety protocol. This means Disney can likewise drop all health safety protocol, ending the indoor face mask rules as well as all physical distancing, which means attendance caps could also increase as of June 5, 2021.
It’ll thus be interesting to see what, if anything, Walt Disney World does with Orange County lifting its indoor face mask mandate and other health rules. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point that Disney will be further relaxing its rules at some point this summer. (It’s worth noting that Walt Disney World already could’ve increased attendance to a greater degree than has occurred–they presumably have not due to a lack of staffing.)
Although unrelated to Orange County’s dropping of mask mandates, Walt Disney World changed its policy for Cast Members earlier this week. Cast Members who have outdoor roles and are able to maintain six feet or more of physical distancing from guests will no longer be required to wear face masks.
This includes many backstage positions, plus some on-stage ones including parking lot attendants, lifeguards, horticulturists, custodial, construction, maintenance, and some other Cast Members. However, they will still be required to have a face mask and put it on whenever they come into contact with guests or venture indoors. (Presumably, this same rule applies to all Cast Members when backstage, and not just those in the aforementioned ‘select positions.’)
Previously, my best guess as to when Walt Disney World would drop its been mask rules would’ve been “after Independence Day.” However, the return to normalcy in the United States has accelerated to a greater degree than I anticipated. At this point, it seems unlikely that Walt Disney World will hold out more than for a couple more weeks, rather than another full month.
With shifting consumer sentiment, comfort levels continuing to increase, and other businesses dropping their rules en masse, it would be untenable for Walt Disney World to maintain its current rules for several more months. Over-burdened frontline Cast Members cannot be expected to indefinitely enforce rules that do not comport with guest expectations. It would amount to swimming upstream against the flow of health guidance, human behavior, and policies at other businesses.
Even with Disney’s reputation for cautiousness and being a family-friendly brand, another big/final change before July 2021 now feels likely. Not only would enforcing rules in place nowhere else cause more friction between guests and Cast Members, but lifting the rule would free up workers at already short-staffed parks to be relocated to other positions. (That might seem trivial, but almost everything Disney is doing right now is dictated by staffing levels–from Park Pass distribution to restaurant capacity.)
On a related note, if you’re wondering how health safety protocol is actually going in the parks, check out our new Physical Distancing & Face Mask Rule Relaxation Report. This details our on-the-ground observations and photos from the last several days at Walt Disney World. The official rules are only one part of the equation–more important is guest behavior and adherence to those rules.
All things considered, our expectation is that Walt Disney World announces it’ll follow this new guidance from Orange County as soon as this afternoon or as late as the next 2-3 weeks rather. It wouldn’t surprise us if Disney departed from past precedent, and didn’t change its policies immediately.
In this scenario, holding out just a little longer might be a savvy move. That’s especially true if Disney wants to strike that delicate balance between those who are eager to ditch the masks and parents who are understandably apprehensive about their kids under age 12. As cases continue to fall (and community risk for the unvaccinated along with it), comfort levels will continue to increase.
Ultimately, that’s just our guess. As always, none of this should be construed to mean Walt Disney World will or won’t lift its indoor face mask and other health rules now that Orange County has done so. Simply put, this is what paves the way for Walt Disney World to follow suit as early as Saturday, which they have done fairly consistently in the past.
We strongly suspect Walt Disney World will follow the lead of Orange County–albeit perhaps with more delay this go-round–because it’s advantageous to do so and now Disney has “cover” for the decision. Regardless, another face mask change is inevitably on the horizon for Walt Disney World, likely before Independence Day. (Nothing yet and, unlike last time, we didn’t hear any rumors of one beforehand this time.) Whenever Walt Disney World does relax its face mask rule again, expect it to read very similarly to Universal’s newly-modified policy. We’ll keep you posted!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Thoughts on physical distancing, face mask mandates, and other health safety protocol all ending in Orange County, Florida? Think Walt Disney World has more plans to return to normal? Are you hoping that Disney follows Orange County’s lead, or keeps its indoor mask rules in place longer? Please keep the comments civil. This is not the place for arguing about efficacy, politics, and so forth–all such comments will be deleted, irrespective of perspective. You are not going to change anyone’s mind via the comments section on this blog, nor are you going to change Disney’s rules or public policy. If you wish to contest this, rather than yelling into the internet abyss, have your voice heard in a meaningful way by contacting Disney or your local elected officials.
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