Some events may be canceled at the last minute this weekend. Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the Tampa Bay area. For the latest news on the outbreak, go to our coronavirus page, which we are updating regularly. You also can sign up for our DayStarter newsletter to have the day’s news sent right to your inbox each morning for free.
• • •
ORLANDO — Brandy Laasko was quick with her answer.
Yes, the recent outbreak of coronavirus in the United States had Laasko and her family worried about coming to Disney World from Ohio for vacation. But not worried enough to cancel.
She and her husband, Tim, and their daughters Kaylee, 7, and Melody, 5, had already been to Hollywood Studios and on Tuesday were tooling around Epcot, taking pictures in front of the elaborate topiaries on display for the Flower and Garden Festival. They planned to visit Magic Kingdom on Wednesday.
“We made extra precautions," said Laasko, who was fully stocked with hand sanitizer and wipes. “We try to tell them, ‘Don’t touch things’ and after each ride we sanitize our hands.”
“We are sanitizing a lot,” Tim Laasko said.
Each year, 20 million people visit the Magic Kingdom, the world’s most visited theme park. But tensions are heightened for tourists as coronavirus has hit Florida.
Florida declared a state of emergency Sunday after a Hillsborough woman and a Manatee man tested positive for the virus, called COVID-19. And health officials learned Tuesday morning that the Hillsborough woman’s sister has tested “presumptive positive."
Rick Munarriz, an analyst for the Motley Fool investment site, said investors are starting to get worried that the fears could start hurting theme park attendance even if there are no major outbreaks.
On Monday, Orange County officials including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and George Aguel, the CEO of Visit Orlando, held a news conference to assure the public they were prepared to keep the virus out of Orlando and contain any outbreaks.
So far, concerns haven’t seemed to hurt attendance. At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, there was a 90-minute wait at Space Mountain. A few restaurants and food kiosks around the parks had hand sanitizer out, but it wasn’t unusually prominent or unusual for Disney World.
As a busy, record-breaking tourist destination, the park is already in the habit of making hand-washing readily available. Touching is a frequent event at the park, which is full of hand railings and fingerprint identification technologies.
Tomika Brown, who contributes to the Disney Moms of Color panel on Facebook, said she understands concern for people who might have a compromised immune system, “but for people who are generally healthy, don’t buy into the hype.”
“It’s just basic common sense. If we practice good hand washing, it’s not that big a deal,” Brown said. “It’s not going to stop me from going, unless it’s closed. If I’m the only one at the park, I’m OK with that.”
Theme parks in Asia have closed or seen huge drops in attendance since the outbreak of coronavirus. Tokyo Disneyland and Disney parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai, Universal Studios Japan and Legoland Japan announced a two-week closure in an effort to contain the spread. The amusement parks are scheduled to reopen on March 16.
Similar to language used during hurricane planning, Florida theme park officials said this week that they were monitoring the situation closely and had trained employees to be alert.
At Legoland in Winter Haven, the park has “restricted employee travel to higher risk countries and implemented enhanced cleaning regimes at our attractions," said Julie Estrada of Merlin Entertainments, which operates the park. "We have informed our teams of coronavirus symptoms as well as the importance of good hygiene practices,”
Walt Disney World officials told employees who had recently traveled to Italy to stay home. There have been no confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus at the parks and the employees did not exhibit symptoms of the virus, a spokesperson said, but they were asked to stay home “out of an abundance of caution.”
Busch Gardens in Tampa is in close contact with health officials. “The health and safety of our guests, ambassadors and animals is our top priority," said spokeswoman Rebecca Romzek.
But negative news can have a cumulative effect on Disney, Munarriz wrote on Motley Fool.
“Even if Disney doesn’t resort to locking down its entrance turnstiles, the growing number of worrisome headlines will eventually weigh on travel plans. Disney World and Disneyland are suddenly vulnerable, and investors have every right to be worried.”
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.