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Q&A with Dr. Keith Armitage

As our parks prepare for the 2021 season, the safety and welfare of our guests and associates remain our highest priority. All of our properties that reopened last year exemplified high-quality immersive entertainment in a safe, sanitized and stress-free environment, and we intend to build on that strong foundation in 2021. We want all of our guests to have fun and feel safe when visiting, so we’ve incorporated guidelines and recommendations from medical experts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and health officials as part of our operating plans. 

Among those we’ve worked with is Dr. Keith Armitage, a leading infectious disease expert and vice chairman of education at UH Cleveland Medical Center. He also serves as Program Director, Internal Medicine, for the medical center and is a professor at Case Western Reserve University. 

We asked Dr. Armitage to share his thoughts and perspective on the pandemic and the comprehensive protocols in place at our parks to keep our guests and associates safe. Here are excerpts from that interview earlier this year.   

Can you describe your work with Cedar Fair to protect guests and associates at our parks?
By way of background, my medical specialty is infectious diseases and everyone in my profession has been very involved in the pandemic. In general, the approach we take is to look at the CDC guidance, the guidance from other public health professionals, and then apply that guidance to practical, real-world examples. How you can safely conduct business in a pandemic and be compliant with the guidelines that our top experts are recommending. 

What can you tell us about the protocols that Cedar Fair parks have in place to ensure the safety of guests and associates?
Cedar Fair, like many businesses, took a proactive approach to keeping its guests safe. Early in the pandemic, there was a lot of focus on surface cleaning protocols for high-touch areas. We also discussed masking. The critical thing about masking is indoors. The real risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 is (being) unmasked indoors, particularly if the air circulation isn’t great. Cedar Fair had pretty strict masking guidelines for indoors, and they put in place a number of (protocols), like a lot of businesses did. We discussed where masking is important, and where it may be less important under environmental conditions like the sun and breeze. You don’t spread a lot of the virus outdoors. 

Last year, we required health screenings and temperature checks for all guests and associates prior to entering the parks. Are you comfortable with Cedar Fair’s decision to eliminate temperature checks for the 2021 season?
One of the things we’ve learned in this pandemic, and it’s been talked about a lot over the past year, is that a lot of people transmit the virus with no symptoms or fever. If you think you’re keeping out anyone who could be contagious by doing temperature checks of everyone, it’s a false sense of security, because a quarter of the patients who have the virus don’t have symptoms. And another quarter may not have a fever, they may have other mild symptoms. So, by doing actual temperature checks, you’re really not going to significantly cut down on the risk. The most important thing is that you identify guests or associates who are sick, either by questionnaire or mobile app. If people are honest in that, and obviously if you see someone is ill, you can take their temperature. And until the pandemic really wanes, have the protocols in place such as masking, surface decontamination and social distancing when appropriate. 

Why it is important for guests to continue wearing face coverings when visiting the parks?
It’s important to be compliant with public health guidelines. And certainly, with these new variants (of the coronavirus), people are emphasizing to just keep the spread down until we get out of this. Let’s not encourage the variants to spread. We need to follow the CDC and public health guidance. The current thought is that the vaccines are working, cases are going down. But in the background are these variants. Let’s not encourage them to have a real setback. So masking is part of an overall strategy, along with the vaccines, to get us out of this. 

Should we be concerned that a ride vehicle seat isn’t sanitized between every user?
Early in the pandemic, surfaces were thought to be a significant way that the virus got spread. I think that (now) has been de-emphasized. (The risk) still may be there, but I think it plays a very small role in the pandemic. The second point is that surfaces outdoors, where there’s sunlight, are just not conducive to the virus staying on very long. Sunlight is very hard on this virus. It inactivates it very quickly. Surfaces that are outdoors exposed to sunlight are very low risk. If you (continue) following protocols on outdoor surfaces, I think the public will be safe. 

What advice would you give to guests who are planning a visit to our parks?
Be vigilant with the protocols for masking, particularly indoors. People should feel less threatened when they are outdoors but continue to comply with park guidelines.    

What’s your outlook?
There’s reason to be optimistic. It depends how fast we can get more vaccine out and whether any of these variants really cause a problem. There are some (health experts) who think that by the time the warm summer months arrive, June or July, with really successful vaccine rollout, and barring a real problem from one of the variants…we may be in really good shape by the peak of summer.