Disney World Will Partially Reopen Saturday Despite Florida's Coronavirus Surge

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday defended the resort reopening, saying he had no concerns as the company put a "premium" on safety.

A large portion of the Walt Disney World Resort will partially reopen this weekend even as the number of novel coronavirus cases in Florida continues to rise, the company confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.

The Magic Kingdom Park and Disney's Animal Kingdom Park will reopen Saturday, followed by EPCOT and Disney's Hollywood Studios reopening July 15. The Disney Springs shopping and dining district reopened May 20 with strict new health and safety measures in place, such as a mask requirement. Thus far, there have been no reported issues stemming from the area. 

On Monday, the Florida Health Department recorded 6,336 new novel coronavirus cases (6,300 Florida residents and 36 non-Florida residents). Those figures raise the overall state total to 206,447 cases with 3,778 deaths related to COVID-19, according to the health department. In Orange County, where the Walt Disney World Resort is located, 14,407 cases had been reported as of Monday, which broke down as 14,152 Florida residents and 255 non-Florida residents, data show. There were 493 hospitalizations and 61 COVID-19 related deaths in Orange County.

Over the weekend, Florida set a record for the most new coronavirus cases in the U.S. in a single day with a total of 11,458, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, cited by CNN. On Monday, the mayor of Miami-Dade (the most populous county in Florida) issued an emergency order closing a number of businesses such as gyms, short-term vacation rentals and restaurant dining rooms due to the virus surge. 

Still, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday defended Disney World reopening, saying he had no concerns as the company put a "premium" on safety, and pointed to Universal Orlando, which fully reopened last month with enhanced health and safety measures. "Disney, I have no doubt is going to be a safe environment," he said. "I think that where you start to see the spread is just in social situations where people let their guard down. Usually like a private party or something like that." On Tuesday afternoon, media was allowed to tour the theme park to see the enhanced health and safety measures (pictures below). 

In late May, Disney submitted its reopening plan to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force, which is headed by Mayor Jerry Demings. The company outlined all the new precautions in place at the resort, such as a mask (guests and employees) and temperature check requirement in addition to social distancing measures, which will be accomplished by a reduced capacity on daily attendance. The exact attendance cap was not made public, but it is assumed to be no greater than 30 percent, which coincides with the capacity for the reopened Shanghai Disneyland. Both a reservation and ticket will be required for entry. The task force unanimously approved the Walt Disney World plan May 27. 

In addition to the theme park portions reopening, Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, a massive campus on the Disney property near Orlando, will host the NBA and MLS to conclude their 2019 seasons beginning later this month. 

While the Florida theme park plan did not hit a snag, the same could not be said for the Southern California destination. Last month, Disney announced its plan to reopen Disneyland on July 17, followed by the three resort hotels by the end of the month. However, the spike in coronavirus cases derailed that plan, with Disney explaining the state would not be able to offer and then approve official guidelines in time for the planned reopening date.

California was forced to roll back a number of business operations in more than 20 counties, including Los Angeles and Orange, for at least three weeks due to a virus spike prior to the Fourth of July weekend. Still, the Downtown Disney shopping and dining district will reopen Thursday, with the company noting that in-store shopping is still allowed, as is patio dining. A number of unions for Disneyland have publicly stated they felt the company was moving too fast to reopen the destination. What's more, a protest was held at the shuttered theme park in late June mainly because Disney, according to the unions involved in the protest, refuses routine COVID-19 testing for park employees. Still, numerous other unions have agreed to terms with Disney to recall furloughed workers when the Anaheim park reopens.

11:20 a.m. Updated with pictures from Tuesday's media tour.