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COVID-19: Imagineering the battle to win the war

Restoring the guest experience by instant screening for COVID-19 is the key to long term safety.

Opinion
UOR Phased Reopening - Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit

By Eddie Sotto

Eddie Sotto

There are some records we’d rather not set. The sobering number of 500,000 US COVID-19 deaths was reached this week. This number surpasses the casualties in all American wars combined and is ten times that of the flu.

Experts will debate how we got there, but the point is, this virus is deadlier than any to date. It is something we must learn from and, as in war, develop better defences against. It is key to prevent future outbreaks of other viruses through deterrents.

The other casualty is both economic and emotional, devastating the shared experience leisure economy and altering the psychological state of society. How do we reassure both the guest and the shareholder that our stadium, resort or cruise ship is resistant to new variants or future pandemics?

Futureproofing

The issue is this. The world was caught off guard and is only now gaining ground against this virus. How does a “new normal” defend venues and the public against future outbreaks without making the very hospital practices that ruined their experiences permanent?

Vaccines alone simply delegate the problem back to the guest. But a venue or experience operating within this new normal can and should go further, screening for COVID-19 variants and future viruses. Here’s why.

Throughout this crisis, we’ve gone from using thermometers, to hearing that COVID-19 would just go away, to waiting for a vaccine. And now that we have vaccines, we see the virus dodge and weave as some variant strains appear to skirt those jabs. The current thinking is that the virus will go away due to majority exposure or herd immunity.

COVID 19 temperature screening

Let’s assume we do all of this and things open up. Experts tell us COVID-19 will not go away entirely but will instead become part of the mosaic of viruses we live with, like the others before it.

They also tell us viruses spread faster and wider due to the interconnected world we now live in, and that tracing is too slow, with viruses only identified once they have spread beyond local control. Even though we are rounding the corner on this virus, I see a gaping hole in our defences against variants or anything else that may spring up. Experts say it’s a matter of time.

The new abnormal

To truly get back to normal, you want to do something tangible to reassure the audience that it’s safe to return. Vaccines don’t yet halt the potential for spreading infection or resist all variants. What the safer new normal should be, is a “new and improved” normal.

Health-and-safety-COVID-downtown-disney
Image courtesy of Disney

How do we Imagineer a new normal that protects us from future variants and viruses while restoring the experience people will come out for?

Consider what works

  1. The NBA successfully created a quarantined bubble of COVID-19 safety for its players and completed a successful season. No one disputes that.
  2. Airports screen for terrorism and only admit weapon-free travellers. Decades after 911, those practices remain to reassure all of us of a safe trip. 
  3. Guests will pay big for shared experiences without masks and distancing, yet need to feel safe when together.

So, why not combine the reassurance and screening principles of airport security, with the medical standards of the NBA safety bubble?

To this former Disney Imagineer, a virus-free bubble makes sense. Restoring the guest experience by instant screening for COVID-19 and admitting only well guests is the best path toward full capacity and long term safety.

Digital terahertz scanning for COVID-19

How do airports screen? They scan for it. Why not use digital terahertz scanning to detect not just COVID-19, but also variants, so the net of safety is tighter than any chemical test, and screening is as instant as the time it takes to walk through a bag and ticket check? It is as seamless and as non-invasive as a puff from a breathalyzer test.

Disney world guests in masks covid 19 screening
Image courtesy of Disney

Digital means every guest improves the machine learning analysis to track new viral strains. Eventually, with guest confidence and a positive track record, the masks can go away too.

We can win the war by making a tighter net and being proactive. The companies that are worth investing in are the ones that limit uncertainty and can guard against closures by proving their guests are truly safe, not just taking their jab for it.

Until I see something better, digital looks like a path to be on while waiting this out. You “herd” it here first!

Header image courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

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Eddie Sotto

Eddie Sotto

Eddie Sotto, former SVP of Concept Design at Disney Imagineering now runs SottoStudios, a turn-key entertainment design and experiential R&D firm. He also recently formed the futureproofexperiences.com group to address the need for COVID-19 variant screening.

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