Theme parks are being eyed suspiciously by consumers as harbingers of the swine flu, according to a recent New York Times article, which says that Disney fans' discussion boards are “buzzing about the fears of transmission and whether some people are putting their fellow vacationers at risk.”
Vacation spots like Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Dollywood and others are just the latest high-traffic areas that the public is warily eyeing as they become increasingly worried about swine flu.
About 17 million people visited the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World last year, according to the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM. Disneyland, in Anaheim, Calif., had about 14.7 million visitors; Universal Studios in Orlando, 6.2 million; and SeaWorld in Orlando, 5.9 million, according to the Times.
To help assuage parkgoers' fears, many theme parks are putting preventative measures in place to help fight the spread of the H1N1 virus, many of which either meet or exceed CDC recommendations.
For example, Disney has ordered more than 200,000 individual hand sanitizers for Disney World, placing them in various spots around the parks. In addition, it's offering free seasonal flu vaccinations to all employees, providing swine information and prevention tips to its workers and keeping up high sanitation standards.
“Disney parks maintains rigorous standards of hygiene and cleanliness for our cast members and guests. We provide employee training and implement extensive cleaning procedures as necessary,” said Michael Hankins, chief physician at the Walt Disney World Resort in the Orlando area, to the New York Times. “Hand washing and other basic hygiene steps, as recommended by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], remain extremely effective ways to combat seasonal flu whether at school, on the playground or visiting a theme park.”
Disney employees who play characters even have their own “handler,” who can instruct the character to change his/her costume if, say, a sick child sneezes all over it.
Other theme parks, such as Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., are taking similar measures.
“We have been working with the local health department and the CDC for more than six months,” said Dollywood spokesman Pete Owens to the Times. “We have a plan in place if this escalates to a pandemic.”
In the meantime, the CDC is reminding people to avoid letting their fears become overblown, and that the best thing people can do to avoid getting swine flu is to take preventative measures like getting vaccinated, washing their hands and staying home if they're sick.
“To single out Disneyland and Disney World is not appropriate with regard to transmission of H1N1,” wrote Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky, a travel health expert at the CDC, in an e-mail message to the Times. “There are too numerous to count opportunities for people to be in close spaces together, whether in movie theaters, in crowded shopping malls, on public transportation as well as during most individuals’ daily activities.”