For the past few months, we've all spent a lot of time thinking about how the coronavirus pandemic will impact our jobs and our health, as well as stores, restaurants, travel, concerts, and many other aspects of our daily lives. But until now, we may not have deeply considered the more subtle ways that it could impact... our love of recreational screaming.
Halloween is still a little more than five months away, but the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) is already encouraging its members, which include amusement parks, arcades, water parks, and zoos, to start thinking about how they're going to scare the shit out of visitors that have spent this entire year being terrified by… this entire year.
Andrew Curran, the president of a company that specializes in haunted house design, told the IAAPA that this would be a good year for walk-through scares to focus on mirrors, special effects, and finding ways to incorporate plexiglass or other physical barriers into whatever spine-chilling scenes are playing out in front of the paying guests. (He also advised that any haunt-operators who'd planned to do medical, contagion, or pandemic-themed attractions should probably start reconsidering their choices immediately).
And in keeping with the guidelines for restaurants, retailers, and other public spaces, the blood-drenched men dramatically waving chainsaws will probably keep their distance this year. "The actor does not have to be in your face screaming," Curran said.
Screaming seems to be a source of concern for the East Japan and West Japan Theme Park Associations as well. According to SoraNews24, the organization has published its “Guidelines to Prevent the Spread of Infection of the Novel Coronavirus,” which it hopes that its own member organizations will use as a reference as they slowly start to allow guests again. (The document has apparently been OK-ed by Oriental Land Japan and USJ, the companies that manage Tokyo Disneyland/Disney Sea and Universal Studios Japan.)
In addition to now-familiar suggestions for putting a limit on the number of daily park visitors, pre-admission temperature checks for guests and staff members, and requiring guests to wear masks, the Association is also asking the parks to tell roller coaster riders to "refrain from shouting/screaming" while on the rides, and the same goes for anyone who visits indoor attractions or watches character shows.
On the one hand, that makes sense, because who wants to ride open-mouthed through a stranger's scream-vapors? (Although pre-pandemic, we seemed completely unbothered by that.) On the other, other than giving everyone a tube sock to shove into their mouths, how does a park even start to enforce that?
On Wednesday, Walt Disney World announced that it had submitted plans to the Orange County (Fla.) Economic Recovery Task Force for the reopening of its Florida theme parks, and it didn't mention scream-borne pathogens even once. It did say that it would like the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom to be open by July 11, followed by EPCOT and Hollywood Studios four days later. "In preparing to reopen during this unusual time, we have to manage our theme parks in a very different way from what we’ve known before," it wrote on its own Disney Parks Blog.
"As we begin to reach out to our cast members and call them back to work, they will be focused on operating our parks in a responsible way that continues to give our guests opportunities to create magical Disney memories."
Some of those "very different" changes include requiring all guests to make advanced reservations for park entry, the temporary suspension of "large group gatherings" like parades and nightly fireworks displays and “high-touch” character meet-and-greets, as well as pre-entry temperature screenings and a mask requirement for all cast members and guests who are over the age of three. (That's right, Brandon. Princess Elsa hates your freedom.)
All guests are required to wear a face covering while they're inside any of the parks, or in the common areas of the resort hotels. When VICE reached out to Walt Disney World, a spokesperson wished us a "magical day" and declined to comment beyond what was already listed in the press release.
The IAAPA has published its own reopening guidelines for amusement facilities and its first top-line consideration is to "encourage the use of masks/face coverings for guests and staff." The document's section on rides and attractions also says that masks are "recommended to reduce the likelihood of airborne virus droplets transferring from one person to another during the ride."
We know you're probably going to scream, this document seems to suggest, so at least cover your mouth so you can scream safely. Honestly, that's how we'd sum up 2020 so far, too.