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Disney World halts vaccine requirement for workers after Florida restricts employer mandates

Guests required to wear masks because of the coronavirus pandemic stroll through the Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment complex, June 16, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (John Raoux/AP)

Disney has halted a coronavirus vaccine requirement for workers at Walt Disney World in Florida after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation last week restricting such mandates for workplaces.

In a statement to The Washington Post on Saturday, Disney said it still believes its “approach to mandatory vaccines has been the right one.”

But amid the uncertainty caused by the new state laws, Disney “will address legal developments as appropriate,” the statement said.

Under the legislation passed in a special session last week, Florida companies are barred from mandating that all employees get vaccinated, and instead must allow workers to “choose from numerous exemptions,” according to a statement from DeSantis. Among the justifications for exemption are “anticipated future pregnancy” and recovery from prior covid-19 infection. Workers may also opt for regular coronavirus testing or the use of personal protective equipment — paid for by the employer — in lieu of a vaccine.

‘Why are we here?’ 4 takeaways from the Fla. special session.

The law also calls for fines of as much as $50,000 per violation for large companies and $10,000 for smaller businesses if an employee is fired for not complying with a vaccine mandate.

Disney had announced this summer that it would require its employees to be fully vaccinated by the fall. The news preceded the Biden administration’s announcement that it would require companies with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccinations or regular testing for their workers.

Biden’s rule was blocked by a federal appeals court in Louisiana — seen as one of the most conservative courts in the country — after Republican-aligned businesses and groups sued. A group of lawsuits against the order will be consolidated in federal court in Ohio, where it faces another panel of judges mostly appointed by Republicans.

Last week, Marc Freedman, a senior official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged businesses to comply with the federal requirement, cautioning them not to take the “preliminary actions” by the court in Louisiana as a sign that the policy was dead.

Disney said that more than 90 percent of “active” Florida-based employees had verified to the company that they had been fully vaccinated. Airlines with vaccine mandates have reported similarly high vaccination levels.

What you should know about the federal vaccine mandates

Amid concerns over the continued spread of the coronavirus throughout the United States, a group of health-care associations that included the American Medical Association last week urged U.S. companies to voluntarily implement Biden’s vaccine mandate, writing in a joint statement that “now is the time” for businesses to “step up and show they are serious” about stopping the spread of the virus.

Disney’s pause on its vaccine requirement is not the first time that the governor has been at odds with large tourism companies in the state. This summer, Norwegian Cruise Line and DeSantis’s administration entered a legal battle over the cruise line’s vaccine requirement for every person onboard its ships and a state ban on such requirements.

DeSantis has repeatedly moved against coronavirus restrictions and vaccine mandates, touting his state’s policies as promoting “freedom,” even as the state has among the highest tallies of covid-related deaths in the country. He is widely seen as a potential candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

DeSantis signed the new legislation at a ceremony at a car dealership in Brandon, Fla., a reference to the slogan “Let’s go, Brandon,” which has been used by conservatives as a euphemism for a more explicit chant against President Biden that has erupted at sports venues and rallies across the country.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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