Just before Walt Disney World re-opened to guests who were already wearing expensive mouse ears and Winnie the Pooh-printed face masks, the Disney Parks Jobs social media accounts posted a promo video of PPE-clad cast members waving at the camera with their gloved hands and repeating "Welcome home!" from behind their own face coverings. The video was ratioed faster than the Tower of Terror can fall 13 stories, and it was quickly deleted from the park's Twitter feed—but not before fans edited it into unofficial but more pandemic-appropriate versions, including one in which the masked cast members warn that "it's not safe" while the score to The Shining drones ominously in the background.
The reality of the Orlando theme park's grand reopening on Saturday was probably somewhere between the two extremes. The mandatory mask requirement, the 4,000 newly installed hand-sanitizing stations, and new rules against hugging the costumed characters might have felt like adequate safety measures to some, but Florida's still-spiking number of positive coronavirus tests—including a record-setting 15,000-plus new infections on Sunday—still throw into question whether now is really the best time for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or whatever.
“We are in a new normal right now, so what’s happening outside of the gates of Walt Disney World is our new world," Disney exec Josh D’Amaro told the Orlando Sentinel about the park's decision to reopen right now.
New world or not, it seemed concerning when a popular Disney vlogger—a 48-year-old woman who calls herself 'That Crazy Disney Lady'—reported that her travel companion had become ill and was "violently vomiting" during their time in the Magic Kingdom. According to The Daily Dot, during Tonya Blakey's 11-plus hour livestreams of her weekend at the park, she reported that her friend Robin DePaolo had experienced a cough, shortness of breath, and high blood pressure, which led to speculation that she might have been displaying coronavirus symptoms. (An edited clip of the women describing their assorted ailments taken was posted on Twitter and has since been removed after a copyright claim from Blakey.)
Blakey emphasized that DePaolo's illness was not covid-related—and she warned her social media followers that she would remove them from the Crazy Disney Lady Facebook groups if they continued to suggest it—but was a severe allergic reaction caused by a slice of chocolate cake topped with cashew ice cream.
"[DePaolo] wanted to try my Kungaloosh [dessert] and the Kungaloosh almost took her down today," Blakey said during a subsequent livestream. "Robin is allergic, like, highly allergic to tree nuts. She can have peanuts, but that's it. She cannot have tree nuts [...] She immediately after she took a bite, she said 'My throat feels funny.'"
The two women went to a first-aid station to get Benadryl, which didn't help. She then returned for additional medical treatment, but stopped short of going to a hospital. "Robin's blood pressure went up to 177/120, she was violently vomiting, she was super sick, y'all," Blakey said. ("I was dumb," DePaolo added. "I was very careless.")
Regardless of the explanation for DePaolo's symptoms, some have still criticized their decision to be at Disney World at all right now. Studies have shown that coronavirus can still be spread when carriers are asymptomatic, meaning that even people at the park who weren't coughing and sputtering could still transmit the disease to others around them. "'I'm sure they're nice ladies who think they're invincible and everything's good. But this is why theme parks shouldn't be open in a pandemic," YouTuber and theme park enthusiast Jenny Nicholson tweeted. "Like even IF she isn't Covid sick, I don't want that ish," another added. "Stay the heck away from people when you're sick." (VICE has reached out to Blakey for comment but has not yet received a response.)
On Monday, Florida announced an additional 9,194 cases of coronavirus, along with 132 additional deaths, which is the biggest single-day spike since the start of the pandemic. That same day, WDW News Today previewed one of Disney World's new "Relaxation Zones," where guests can remove their masks and "enjoy some downtime." Good luck with that.