Walt Disney World has announced that Cast Members at the Florida parks who are fully vaccinated will no longer be required to wear face coverings indoors backstage beginning Monday, November 8. The announcement comes as tensions remain high in the Sunshine State over mask mandates in schools among other places.
The leniency in mask requirements only pertains to Cast Members who are fully vaccinated, meaning that they have received both doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The changes to the mask requirements for Cast Members also stipulate they can only be mask-free when they are indoors and “backstage,” which is Disney code for “not around Guests.” Anytime a Cast Member is “onstage,” he or she must wear a face covering as usual.
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At the end of July 2021, Disney issued a requirement for all salaried and non-union hourly workers in the U.S. to be fully vaccinated by the end of September. Then, toward the end of the summer, Disney mandated that all Cast Members must be fully vaccinated by October 22 or risk termination. Dozens of Cast Members protested, saying they disagreed with the mandate, some even waving signs saying, “Disney made my dream a nightmare.”
Amid growing concerns over the quickly-spreading COVID-19 virus, Disney World was forced to close its gates to Guests in mid-March 2020. The closure, which lasted almost four months to the day, is the longest time Disney World has been closed in the history of the parks.
At that time, every other Disney Park across the globe was already closed or also in the process of closing. Cast Members had to be furloughed at first, and during their furlough, Disney continued to cover the costs of Cast Members’ health care benefits. Ultimately, 28,000 Cast Members were laid off in the wake of the unprecedented global pandemic that has now claimed the lives of more than 5 million people worldwide.