Reporter’s Notebook: Magical experiences in Disney
With West Virginia glowing red with COVID-19 delta cases, it made sense to continue with a pre-scheduled trip to Walt Disney World and a state that’s now on the downward glidepath in COVID cases: Florida.
The Disney trip has been in the works for a while. I travel fairly frequently with my wife and mother-in-law Tami to central Florida. Tami is a West Virginia native, but spent a lot of her youth near Cape Canaveral during the glory days of the space race.
Tami can say she’s been to Disney World for the grand opening in 1971, the 25th anniversary, and now the 50th anniversary this year. It also makes the second seasonal trip, as we went last Christmas to see the parks decked out in their holiday best. This time, Magic Kingdom was decorated for fall and Halloween, including Boo Bash, complete with trick-or-treating and spooky versions of the park’s traditional rides.
It didn’t occur to me that when we first scheduled this trip we’d be dealing with worse pandemic, but thus is the nature of delta COVID. I certainly didn’t think West Virginia would be going gangbusters in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Most of this summer, Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis have been the boogeymen of the current phase of the pandemic.
Just to be clear: Florida was heavily hit this summer by delta and it is hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison with West Virginia when Florida has a significantly larger population. But as of the most current data compiled by the New York Times (don’t roll your eyes, their COVID data and stats are pretty solid), West Virginia is averaging 90 cases per 100,000 people compared to Florida’s average of 67 cases per 100,000 people.
In fact, the 14-day change in cases in Florida has dropped 34 percent, with other southern states that saw high delta COVID numbers seeing drops (Georgia saw a 19-percent drop and Alabama dropped 6 percent). West Virginia COVID cases, on the other hand, jumped 58 percent in the 14-day average. West Virginia is also in the top 10 states with high hospitalizations and deaths.
I can’t speak to Florida’s handling of COVID. I can say that my trip to Disney World last week was certainly better than last December. There was not an official COVID vaccine approved yet, even for emergency authorization. That wouldn’t come until mid-December (though unbeknownst to me at the time, I had been fully vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Though not approved for use, I’m part of their trial and received two doses in November 2020).
Because of the lack of vaccine, masks were a must for nearly everything. From the time we walked in the front door of Yeager Airport in Charleston until we got in our hotel room on Disney property, we were completely masked. Masks were required in the parks at all times except when eating and drinking. Even kids as young as two were masked.
This time, the only time one had to be masked on Disney property was when indoors or on a ride. Otherwise, you could walk around outdoors unmasked, which was great because it was in the 90s all week and humid as all get out.
It also helped that the parks were largely not super crowded. Some of this was due to the time of year. Kids in Florida are in school, as are many kids in other states. I’ll never understand why we start school in West Virginia as early as we do now. It was always the week of Labor Day for me growing up in Pleasants County.
School was one reason the parks were less crowded. I imagine COVID fear was another, though the people who are largely fearful of being around large groups are people who are vaccinated: the very people that fear should not exist for. I saw where the annual Bridge Day ceremonies at the New River Gorge Bridge is requiring attendees to mask up regardless of vaccination status despite the event being outdoors.
The plus-side to fewer people in the parks was fewer people on rides. Wait times for most rides was less than 30 minutes depending on the time of day and crowds. We even had no trouble getting on Rise of the Resistance, the most popular Star Wars ride in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
I did see a new epidemic at Disney I’d like to address: the increase of people talking AT their phones.
I don’t mean talking on their phones or people texting or using social media. I mean people using their video or Facetime features, holding their phones out in front of them with the speakerphone volume all the way up, and talking loudly.
This was a bad habit I was seeing before COVID, but with many meetings taking place over video chat apps, talking at the phone has become a curse. I don’t need to hear your conversation.
I saw one person, unable to hear the person they were talking to over Facetime, stick the speakerphone portion of the phone up to their ear to hear. Folks, the phone was invented 145 years ago, but the tech has remained mostly constant. One end goes next to your ear. The other goes next to your mouth.
You’ll be able to hear and be heard much better if you use the phone the way it has traditionally been used. You don’t need to see the person on the other end of the phone that badly. You look like Scotty from Star Trek: IV trying to talk to a desktop computer and not understanding how to use a keyboard and mouse.
This is the next pandemic we must fight.
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.