Disney parks employees say the company is underreporting its COVID-19 cases, workers find out about infections by texting each other and they’re asked to return to the park even if they test positive for the virus.
The company’s two parks in Orlando, Florida and Anaheim, California reopened in early July but there’s a stark difference between how Disney treats its amusement parks and the NBA Bubble in Florida.
The NBA Bubble opened at Disney World in Orlando to allow the basketball season to continue. The facility allows NBA staff, players, and coaches to adhere to strict social distancing and isolation requirements with daily on-site testing.
While the NBA Bubble boasted efficient and plentiful resources, in California the Downtown Disney district said they had no on-site testing.
Disney parks employees say the company is underreporting its COVID-19 cases and workers are asked to return to the park even if they’re still positive. A view of Walt Disney World in Florida above. Disney World in Florida added a coronavirus testing center in August, but Disneyland in California does not have on-site testing
Disney Labor Relations Director Bill Place said in a letter to unions in June that testing is ‘not viable’ and prone to ‘false negatives’, despite testing provided in Orlando.
Four sources told the Daily Beast that Disney kept the total number of positive cases at the district under wraps.
The sources said Disney alerted the unions only about the positive test results of their members often days after the fact, risking exposure.
They also didn’t formally announce to employees who was testing positive so colleagues disappeared for days at a time and cast members only found out by texting each other.
The lack of organization left 11 people from a 12-person Horticulture Irrigation team temporarily out for a week.
To add to the alarming spread of the virus, the California park allows thousands of guests to enter with just a temperature check, and cast members are allegedly told to not anger customers in a bid to keep business booming.
It’s a stark contrast from how Disney World treats the NBA bubble in Florida, which on August 19 reported zero NBA players tested positive for the fifth consecutive week.
In the bubble teams stay at three different hotels, play at the ESPN Wide World of Spots Complex, and are not allowed outside of the bubble.
Players are tested for COVID-19 everyday and monitored for symptoms.
Disney hasn’t commented on the discrepency.
Four sources say Disney has the total number of positive cases at the district ‘under wraps’ and unions aren’t sharing how many cases they have
Employees and ‘cast members’ reveal they learn of COVID-19 cases through word of mouth rather than from Disney directly
‘We want to know if any cast members have tested positive. But Disney has taken the position that they’re only going to tell us if our cast members do,’ Matt Bell, a spokesperson for UFCW Local 324, one of dozen unions representing workers at Disneyland said to the Daily Beast.
‘What is supposed to happen is contact tracing—find out who was exposed and quarantine them as well. I can’t confirm that they’ve done that,’ he added.
‘Basically all of our COVID information has come from word of mouth,’ a woman who goes by Alicia, the spouse of a cast member whose contract bans them from speaking to press said.
‘Co-workers texting each other, co-workers talking to each other, and things that my [spouse] has seen on the job. None of this is from any of the managers. Disney management is not really officially acknowledging that any of this is happening,’ she added.
She said she was doubtful from the start that Disney could pull off a safe reopening without regular on-site testing and strict contact tracing, especially when Orange County was seeing a spike in infections.
On July 8, 10 days after the cast members returned to work she wrote messages to the City of Anaheim and California Gov. Gain Newsom saying: ‘Unknowingly, [the cast members were] working next to an employee who was exposed to COVID-19.’
The treatment of employees is a far cry from how Disney runs the NBA Bubble in Florida, where athletes are tested daily and monitored for symptoms. The Portland Trail Blazers play against the Dallas Mavericks at the Field House in Orlando, Florida in the NBA Bubble on August 11 above
In the bubble teams stay at three different hotels, play at the ESPN Wide World of Spots Complex, and are not allowed outside of the bubble. Players are tested for COVID-19 everyday and monitored for symptoms. P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets above on July 17
A view of the empty area at the bubble above
‘Although the Union urged him to not return, he still worked his entire shift, thus exposing ALL of [them],’ she added.
‘NO ONE needs to ride Dumbo during a plague!’ she added.
Newsom never replied and the City of Anaheim said ‘We’re sorry to hear of what you shared’.
Downtown Disney is a major generator of sales tax revenue in the region.
City of Anaheim’s Chief Communications Officer said: ‘We understand the concerns of anyone working or going back to work. But we are unaware of any concerns at Downtown Disney.’
Another worker who remained anonymous said he worked at Disney for four years as a plumber.
He said in March he was furloughed with a vast majority of Disney workers. But Disney recalled workers to reopened parts of the park in June and at first the plumber was not concerned.
The first week back one gardener went home sick after catching COVID-19 from a relative, two sources say.
The sources say that Disney did not confirm the positive case until the following Monday, letting a week go by until his co-workers knew they were exposed to the virus.
Workers report that the virus spreads fast among teams due to a lack of transparency and on site testing.
On July 23 one worker told another about two sick members on their team – one who tested positive and another who was waiting for results.
The other worker responded saying two machinists and a roofer on another team are also out sick.
The next day a third gardener got ill.
By July 26 one cast member said he was ill and his wife tested positive four days later.
By July 29 nine people on the team were ill or isolating.
Some people said Disney cleared them to return for work before the 14-day quarantine mark and before they tested negative for the virus.
‘In addition to [Disney’s] unscrupulous suppression of their Covid-19 case numbers, they have “highly encouraged/recommended” employees to not anger ANY customer in Downtown Disney,’ Alicia said.
‘Regardless of the new safety rules, so long as the customer is wearing a mask, [cast members] are discouraged from “ruffling feathers,” meaning social distancing enforcement has become fairly scattershot at best,’ she added.
No one across 11 unions for Disney could confirm the total number of COVID-19 cases among the workforce.
‘We’ve heard from other members in the coalition that there have been outbreaks in Downtown Disney,’ Chris Duarte, of Workers United Local 50, a member of the Coalition of Resort Labor Unions said.
‘I don’t know a lot of the details about where they work and what they do. But we have heard from our other partners that they have had some people working in Downtown Disney contract the disease.’