Disney CEO says masks likely part of US parks’ reopening plan

Bob Chapek points to Shanghai’s success as ‘great new beginning of rebirth for Disney parks’

Joe Schott, front right, president and general manager of Shanghai Disney Resort, speaks during its reopening ceremony after the coronavirus closure in Shanghai, China, Monday, May 11, 2020. Visits will be limited initially and must be booked in advance, and the company said it will increase cleaning and require social distancing in lines for the various attractions(AP Photo/Si Chen) (Si Chen)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Social distancing and masks seem to be part of Disney’s reopening formula.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in an CNBC interview on Monday that cast members and guests will likely be required to wear masks once theme parks reopen in the United States.

Visitors were equipped with masks and dressed in festive Disney attire as they walked into Shanghai Disneyland Monday. China’s most prominent theme park reopened its gates for the first time since January, limiting visitor numbers to 30% capacity and enforcing guests to practice socially distancing.

These are part of the park’s anti-virus restrictions which also include checking guests for fevers and posting signage and decals to designate a safe distance between visitors and cast members.

“To them, it represents some semblance of normal," the CEO said about the park’s reopening. “I look at this as a stairstep. We’re going to be very disciplined about how we open up. And then we’re going to ramp up and increase."

Tickets to the park’s reopening day sold out Friday. As of Monday afternoon, tickets to the park were also sold out for the week. Chapek says the company plans to increase capacity by 5,000 a week.

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“Just until we get to the point that we know that we can operate at under our guidelines in a way that’s very responsible," he said. "We certainly want to open as soon as we can across the world but we’re going to do so in a responsible way.”

With a nod to Disney Shanghai’s success, he believes other theme parks can have similar success if the guests follow additional guidelines.

“A lot of it has to do with guest behavior as much as it has to do with Disney operations," he said. “Everyone knows COVID-19 is a serious manner. Therefore, we’re all playing a part of this ecosystem of safety. We’re going to do our part and we need our guests to do their part too.”

The company’s chief noting that what may have worked in one area could have a different outcome in other parks and resorts, nodding to masks becoming a social norm in Asia and their disproportionate use in the U.S.

“That will be something that will be a little trying I think for some of the guests, particularly in the hot humid summers that we tend to have," he said. “Along with social distancing, one of the things we are likely going to require is masks from both the casts and the guests.”

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Photo: Jonathan Michael Salazar (WKMG)

Though Chapek did not provide a timeline of when parks are expected to reopen in the U.S., he pointed to Disney Springs as an opportunity for the company to gauge the possibility.

Disney Springs is set to begin its phased reopening plan next week. The attraction is set to welcome customers starting May 20. Chapek says for the parks, the company is waiting on government guidelines with input from the Center for Disease Control and Prevent and local public health officials.

“We’re not going to comment on any specific timing but I think it is a good sign that Disney Springs is going to open up in Orlando," he said during the interview.

He described a similar reopening with Shanghai’s Disney Town which reinstated the company’s confidence in following a similar procedure in the U.S.

“You know, we stuck our toe in the water,” he said about opening Disney Town. “(And) it went extremely well. “We held to the standards we set up. Hopefully, we’ll see that at Disney Springs as well."

Disney has yet to release full details on how Disney Springs will begin its phased reopening plan. For now, guests can expect reduced hours, parking and capacity in efforts to follow social distance guidelines.

[MORE: Disney Springs to begin phased reopening May 20 after coronavirus closure]

Chapek did not mention if Disney Springs guests will have to wear masks when visiting the area. Overall, the CEO said people could expect additional restrictions as the company works with this new normal.

“This will be the beginning of a great new rebirth of Disney parks,” Chapek said about the anticipated openings. “So if the guests continue to behave in the way that they have, I think we might be able to approach that.”