Disney World Furloughing 43,000 Employees as Theme Park Remains Closed Indefinitely

All of Disney's attractions, stores, and hotels in North America are closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Visitors make their way toward Cinderalla Castle at Magic Ki
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Walt Disney World has decided to furlough 43,000 union employees as the Florida theme park remains closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Services Trade Council Union, Disney confirmed on Sunday that the company reached an agreement to maintain health insurance and other benefits during the furlough, which will begin April 19.

“Walt Disney World and Disneyland have reached agreements with all unions for hourly cast members that will maintain members’ health insurance benefits coverage, educational support and additional employee assistance programs during a temporary furlough effective April 19,” a representative for Disney told PEOPLE in a statement.

The statement notes that the agreements make it easier for employees to return to work when the time comes. “We are grateful to have worked together in good faith to help our cast and members navigate these unprecedented times,” the statement said.

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Disney will pay for 100 percent of health insurance costs for workers currently covered for the duration of the furlough, up to 12 months. The company also promised that employees would be able to come back to their jobs “when our community recovers from the impact of COVID-19.”

A small group of 200 workers will remain on the job during the closure to do “essential” tasks, such as housekeeping, custodial and lake patrol positions.

The Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, which includes Animal Kingdom, the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot, employs about 77,000 people total.

On March 12, PEOPLE first reported that Disneyland and Disney World would both close over that weekend, following the closure of other major tourist attractions and the cancelation of events around the world.

The Walt Disney Company then announced on March 27 that both Disney World and Disneyland would be closed “indefinitely” due to the ongoing spread of the virus. The parks were originally planning to reopen at the end of last month.

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The company shared the announcement in a statement on their official Twitter, writing in part, “While there is still much uncertainty with respect to the impacts of COVID-19, the safety and well-being of our guests and employees remains The Walt Disney Company’s top priority.”

This is the only the third time in history that Disneyland has closed completely for reasons other than weather. Previously, the Anaheim, California, park shut down following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and for the national day of mourning after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

Disney World in Florida has only ever shut its doors due to the threat of hurricanes — most recently, Hurricane Dorian in September 2019— and the day after the 2001 attacks.

Neither park has ever closed due to the outbreak of an illness.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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