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Disney World, Publix, Tampa’s Straz Center ease up on COVID-19 protocols

In varying ways, three major organizations are relaxing some of their pandemic requirements.
Starting Thursday, Disney will ease up on its mask requirement.
Starting Thursday, Disney will ease up on its mask requirement. [ JOE BURBANK | AP ]
Published Feb. 16|Updated Feb. 18

Three of the most cautious organizations when it came to COVID-19 protocols — Walt Disney World, Publix and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts — this week are easing up on their requirements for masks and vaccines, but in differing ways.

Starting Thursday, Walt Disney World is easing its mask requirements to let fully vaccinated people ditch the face mask even when indoors. Tampa’s David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts will no longer require guests to show a COVID-19 vaccine card or proof of a negative test to see a show there.

And as of this week, Publix has changed its policy for employees, “as a result of the decrease in COVID-19 cases and wide availability of the vaccine.” Fully vaccinated employees have the option not to wear face coverings — but pharmacy associates, regardless of vaccination status, are still required to wear face coverings when administering vaccines.

At an October 2021 show, signs reminded guests to wear masks as theater goers entered the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The Straz Center since last fall had implemented mandates that audience members show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or a vaccination card and must keep a mask on all times during the performance.
At an October 2021 show, signs reminded guests to wear masks as theater goers entered the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The Straz Center since last fall had implemented mandates that audience members show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or a vaccination card and must keep a mask on all times during the performance. [ DIRK SHADD | Times (2021)  ]

Disney, unlike other Florida theme parks, was still requiring face masks when indoors at its hotels and park properties. But there are still some restrictions. Regardless of vaccination status, all visitors age 2 or older must wear a mask when inside enclosed transportation, including the monorail, Skyliner and buses.

Disney is still asking unvaccinated visitors to continue to wear face coverings indoors.

Tampa’s Straz Center had been requiring that guests show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine or a recent negative test before seeing a show. It also has required face masks for everyone inside its buildings. In an email to patrons this week, the performing arts center said it was changing the vaccine and testing policy, but keeping its mask requirement in place after consulting with public health advisers.

Related: Must vulnerable still in jeopardy as COVID precautions ease

The reason, it said, is that the recent omicron variant has affected just about everyone, unvaccinated or not.

“The decision to eliminate the requirement is based on the recognition that vaccinated as well as unvaccinated individuals are contracting the virus with similar regularity,” a Straz email to patrons said. “Therefore, proof of vaccination among audience members is no longer a useful mitigation measure. However, health and science professionals continue to advocate masking as a highly effective means of reducing transmission. As a result, the Straz is maintaining our indoor mask policy (with no food or drink in the theaters) until case numbers decline significantly.”

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