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Disney World, movie theaters, and zoos are opening up, but expert warns some pose 'severe risk'

As movie theaters, zoos, and amusement parks like Disney World reopen, consumers have more choices for entertainment during the coronavirus pandemic.

Twenty/20

For most of 2020, outdoor activities have been the only option. Now, though, as movie theaters, zoos, and even amusement parks like Disney World reopen, consumers have more choices. Many of these institutions will look a lot different as management implements new safety measures and procedures to lower the risk of visitors contracting Covid-19. 

Here's how summer activities will operate differently, and how high-risk experts say they are.

Movies

Movie theater chains such as AMC, Regal, and Cinemark have announced plans to reopen with precautions in place. All three will be limiting capacity, enabling viewers to sit far apart from one another. AMC and Regal are requiring viewers wear masks while Cinemark is "encouraging" but not requiring them. 

What you'll be able to view will be different, too. Many studios have halted the release or production of what were supposed to be this year's summer blockbusters. Disney pushed the release date of "Mulan" back to August 21 as coronavirus cases rise, for example, and Warner Bros. postponed the release of Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" for the second time to August 12. 

In lieu of new movies, theaters are playing older ones, many times at a lower price point. In Dallas, Texas, for example, Cinemark 17 is playing "The Dark Knight" for $5.

This risk of going to a movie theater can be moderate, says Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician. But only if certain precautions are in place.

"A reduction in the amount of people who can come in at a time, that's great," Galiatsatos says. "The challenge with movie theaters is people will eat." 

The challenge with movie theaters is people will eat.
Panagis Galiatsatos
pulmonary and critical care medicine physician

For example, if theaters play movies less than two hours long, socially distance viewers who are wearing masks, and don't serve food or drink, that decreases the risk. However, if food and drink is allowed and viewers are taking their masks off to eat or drink, the risk goes up.

At AMC, Regal, and Cinemark, many movies being screened are more than two hours long, and the concession stands will be open, so viewers will probably be taking off their masks to eat and drink. Those theaters may then be less safe.

Water parks and amusement parks

Of the theme parks that are opening, most are running at a lower capacity, requiring visitors make reservations for tickets, doing temperature checks at the door, and requiring face masks. You can also expect to see park employees cleaning high-touch areas more frequently and hand sanitizer dispensers stationed throughout the parks. 

Six Flags locations that are opening back up are allowing 25% capacity and you must make reservations beforehand. Once you get to the park, you'll see a number of social distancing measure put in place, says Robert Niles, founder of Theme Park Insider. 

"Now they have limited-capacity rides and are only loading every other row," he says. Theaters with shows will seat people rows apart, and fewer people in the park means visitors won't have to stand line near one another. 

There will still be concessions, but most parks are discouraging the use of cash and asking that patrons use the mobile app to order and pay for food. To Niles, this is a welcome change as mobile ordering is "simpler." 

Pretty much everyone will use mobile ordering going forward in the parks.
Robert Niles
Founder of Theme Park Insider

"Use the park apps just like you would the Starbucks app," he says. "Order and you'll have a form of payment associated with the app, so you'll pay through the app. Then you'll get a buzz when its ready and you'll go pick it up. Pretty much everyone will use mobile ordering going forward in the parks." 

These changes go for Disney World too, which is reopening July 11. The park in Orlando, Florida, will be limiting capacity, requiring face masks (for those over 2 years old), and doing temperature checks at the entrance. If someone has a 100.4-degree fever or above, they and their party will not be allowed in the park. The park is also asking visitors to use the My Disney Experience app to pay for concessions and check-in at any resort hotels.

Amusement parks and water parks are outside but still considered high risk for virus-spreading. This is because of the amount of shared, high-touch areas, such as railings and banisters. Because there are more factors you cannot control at places like Disney World, Galiatsatos wouldn't recommend visiting amusement parks. 

"Face mask policies are going to be the hardest things to implement," he says. "Amusement parks, to me, are going to pose the most severe risk." 

Museums and zoos

Like theme parks, zoos will only admit a fraction of capacity and require visitors to reserve their spots and wear masks. Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, for example,  is requiring face masks for those 2 years old or older and requiring visitors to make reservations. 

If you're too nervous to enter a zoo on foot, drive-thru zoos are sprouting up around the country so people can remain in the safety of their cars. For example, the Pittsburgh Zoo is hosting a "drive-thru zoofari" for $60 per vehicle. Six Flags Great Adventure Park in Jackson, New Jersey, will host a drive-through safari for $17.99 per person, or at no cost if you have a season pass. 

Amusement parks, to me, are going to pose the most severe risk.
Robert Niles
Founder of Theme Park Insider

Most museums in the country are remaining closed, but ones that are opening are doing so with limited capacity. In Long Island, New York, museums and aquariums will be able to open, as long as they limit capacity so people can socially distance inside. 

Regardless of what's open, being in crowds with strangers or indoors are both still riskier than doing something outdoors and isolated, like camping. "An indoor business will always have a higher risk of spreading coronavirus than an outdoor business," Galiatsatos says. 

And if you are indoors and see someone taking their mask off, say something, Galiatsatos says, as you would if you saw someone smoking in an nonsmoking area. "If someone tried to light a cigarette in a movie theater, everyone would be on that," he says. "We have to have that same kind on consciousness with Covid-19." 

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