As a global firm that includes 16 theme parks, hotels, adventure travel businesses, and cruise ships operating in COVID hot spots around the world, including China, the U.S., and Europe, Pamela Hymel, chief medical officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said Disney became aware of the public health and safety dangers posed by coronavirus in January 2020, and closed its Shanghai and Hong Kong parks not long after. Eventually, all Disney parks and tourism businesses were shut down for a time.

Since reopening many parks last year, the company has been working closely with local, state, and federal public health officials to implement safety, medical, and operational practices and standards “in a science-focused way,” said Hymel.

Because of the evolving understanding of the virus, and sometimes-conflicting messages about mask-wearing and vaccinations from official sources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House, as well as from unofficial sources, like cable TV and social media, has made staying abreast of scientific advances — and then making sure employees are well-informed — a critical part of Disney’s well-being strategy.

“Our focus is really on educating our [employees], supporting them and their needs, making sure that they have the information not only on what we want them to do, but why we want them to do it. And then, how these actions really help protect not only their health and safety, but how it can also protect that of friends and families,” said Hymel.

Earlier this month, Disney instituted a mandatory vaccination policy for all salaried and non-union workers and re-implemented mask-wearing for employees and visitors, even those who are fully vaccinated.


COVID’s future: From pandemic to endemic?

Difficult to predict timeline as duration of vaccine protection, social contact, and transmissibility play key roles, says expert

Prognosis: Grim

Simulator shows that without more masks and vaccinations, delta variant could be riskiest yet

Why returning to ‘normal’ feels so not

Take small steps back after pandemic trauma, psychologist says

Looking ahead, Sorensen said the pandemic has had some positive effects, highlighting the importance of worker health, safety, and well-being to a business’s survival, and how employers can play a leadership role “building a culture of health for their own workforce.”

“Without healthy employees, the business mission is not going to be able to move forward,” she said. “It’s now time to really make this a priority, figure out how to engage workers in this process, and shift some of the resources to really look at how to do that.”

Employers can also use this time to think about their organizational resilience, Sorensen added.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that there’s a need for anticipatory planning, some prevention actions in advance that will allow the organization to build toward resilience … understanding that preventive practices provide a framework for some of the ways to move forward.”