If a bombshell report in The Daily Beast is to be believed, Disney is underreporting the number of positive COVID-19 tests among workers at the Downtown Disney shopping complex in Anaheim, California, and allowing workers who’ve tested positive to return to work prematurely.
Four sources told the outlet that “Disney has kept the total number of positive cases at the district under wraps, alerting unions only to the positive test results of their members—often days after the fact, risking further exposure—and leaving workers to guess for themselves why colleagues disappeared for days at a time.”
Contact tracing only works when every person who came into contact with someone who tested positive quarantines to prevent further spread. Because members of different unions interact with each other every day they’re on the job, it makes no sense, from a public health perspective, to only inform unions about their own members.
“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,” said Matt Bell, a spokesperson for UFCW Local 324, one of the 12 unions representing Disneyland employees.
Another source, the spouse of a Disney employee, told The Daily Beast that information is coming via word-of-mouth, not the kind of transparent reporting you’d hope for.
“Basically all of our COVID information has come from word of mouth: co-workers texting each other, co-workers talking to each other, and things that my [spouse] has seen on the job,” she said. “None of this is from any of the managers. Disney management is not really officially acknowledging that any of this is happening.”
It does make sense, from a PR perspective, for Disney to hide the total number of positive tests in its facilities. The company has made a big bet that it can reopen its parks around the world safely, that it’s possible to operate a theme park in a pandemic. If there’s a large number of positive tests at a given Disney location, it casts doubt on the company’s operations everywhere.
A trove of text messages reviewed by The Daily Beast showed that members of the horticulture irrigation team who’d tested positive were expected to return to work early, risking their co-workers’ health. In the end, 11 members of the 12-person team tested positive.
Repeated requests to the state and city to investigate the situation have gone unanswered. Similarly, Disney did not reply to “more than eight” requests for comment from The Daily Beast.
If this report is true, it would suggest that Disney’s push to reopen was founded on empty rhetoric and that, once again, the desire to make a profit is pushing a company to risk the health of its employees and customers.