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Report: Theme park attendance was a roller coaster in 2021

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Last year was a roller coaster ride for theme parks worldwide, with U.S. water parks approaching pre-pandemic levels and parks in China struggling with lockdowns, according to a new report.

The speed of recovery was greatly influenced by the level of government restrictions, the success of vaccine rollouts and consumer confidence levels, according to the TEA/AECOM 2021 Theme Index and Museum Index: The Global Attractions Attendance Report.

The annual report, which was released last Friday, usually ranks theme parks by attendance but held off on doing that in the 2021 report because of disparities in operating conditions worldwide — and even within countries. Instead, it compared 2021 attendance with pre-pandemic 2019 attendance. Many of the theme parks don’t release attendance figures, and for those that don’t, the index used financial reports, local tourism groups and investment banking reports to calculate them.

In the U.S. last year, theme parks recaptured about two-thirds of their attendance from 2019, but the year marked an upward trajectory with attendance increasing by 134% over figures from 2020, when most theme parks were shuttered for several months in an effort to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, according to the report.

But even in the U.S., theme parks operated under different conditions in 2021, even when they were owned by the same company. For instance, the Florida parks owned by Universal had higher attendance than those in California because Florida’s COVID-19 restrictions ended earlier.

Because COVID-19 restrictions limited visits from international travelers, U.S. theme parks relied more on their local markets and emphasized season pass sales. The pandemic forced many theme parks to expand advance reservation systems and dynamic pricing, which has added to the bottom line, the report said.

U.S. water parks approached their pre-pandemic figures because of their shorter season, which lined up with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, access to vaccinations and before the omicron wave peaked, the report said.

Many U.S. theme parks also were investing in new rides, such as SeaWorld, which announced Tuesday that it will open three new coasters next year. A surfing-like coaster will open in Orlando, a coaster in which riders straddle their seats like a motorcycle is slated for San Diego and a flume coaster is set for San Antonio.

“Responding to guest expectations for new attractions and capital will be key for 2023 and beyond,” the report said.

The theme park with the largest attendance worldwide in 2019, the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida, had 12.6 million visitors in 2021, about 60% of its attendance two years earlier, but an 82% jump over 2020, the report said.

Attendance at the next busiest theme park, Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif., was only 45% of its pre-pandemic level in 2021, but up 133% over 2020. The park drew 8.5 million visitors in 2021, according to the report.

Attendance at Chinese theme parks in 2021 was about half of what it was pre-pandemic, and only about 25% above 2020 figures.

“China, the engine behind Asia’s growth in recent years, struggled with lockdowns, quarantines, and travel restrictions,” the report said.

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Health

$10 Million Gift from Dr. Phillips Charities to Bolster New College of Nursing Building at Lake Nona

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Leaders from Dr. Phillips Charities and UCF announced a $10 million donation to support the College of Nursing’s new building, which will help UCF graduate more nurses and combat the nation’s critical nursing shortage while fostering more innovation and collaboration in Lake Nona’s Medical City.

The new home of the College of Nursing will sit on the 50-acre property already home to the UCF College of Medicine and the UCF Lake Nona Medical Center.

“Our mission is to give with purpose, and the purpose could not be more clear here — nurses save lives and our community has a great need for more talented nurses,” says Kenneth D. Robinson, president and CEO for Dr. Phillips, Inc. and The Dr. P. Phillips Foundation. “Dr. Phillips Charities is excited to make this investment in UCF to build a stronger educational ecosystem, a pipeline that will provide nursing talent to our region for generations to come.”

“Both Dr. Phillips Charities and UCF are rooted in the mission to transform lives, and this generous gift will have a transformational impact on our future nurses and educators, and on all in our community who will be touched by their talents and compassion,” says Alex Martins, chair of UCF’s Board of Trustees.

The generous donation will accelerate a campaign to raise $30 million to support the creation of a 21st century building that will house the College of Nursing’s education and research activities. The Florida Legislature previously allocated $29 million toward the approximately $60 million building during the 2022 legislative session. The new building is anticipated to open during the 2025-2026 academic year.

“We have a bold vision for the future, which is to continue to provide the highest quality healthcare to our community. This innovation and impact would not be possible without this lead gift contribution of Dr. Phillips Charities, and for that we are very thankful,” says UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright. “Our strong foundation of partnership and deep commitment to our region will deliver a real impact to our community.”

The new building is a much-needed investment for the region and the state, both of which are facing a critical healthcare worker shortage. The Florida Hospital Association estimates that an additional 2,300 registered nurses (RNs) are needed to enter the workforce each year to address the projected state shortage of 37,400 RNs by 2035.

UCF currently graduates more newly licensed RNs annually than any other institution in the State University System, with approximately 260 Knight nurses entering the workforce each year. With the support of the Florida Legislature, UCF is already investing $6.9 million to increase the university’s ability to educate more nurses, and more space is needed for these new faculty and students.

Once the new building is complete, the college expects to increase enrollment for new nurses and future nurse educators, grow the number of existing UCF faculty, and ultimately graduate an additional 150 new nurses annually to enter the healthcare industry — primarily in Florida. With 13,000 alumni to date, more than 85 percent of Knight nurses live and work in Florida.

With additional faculty, staff and space, the college also will grow enrollment capacity for its doctoral and master’s degree programs. These programs help educate more advanced practice providers, nurse leaders and executives, and nurse educators who are essential to fueling the pipeline of nursing faculty required to combat the nursing shortage.

“As a leader in nursing education, no other university is better equipped to be a part of the solution to the nursing shortage, and the many other healthcare challenges we face today and will face in the future,” says Mary Lou Sole, dean of the College of Nursing. “Today we are so lucky to have an incredible community leader who is helping to accelerate our efforts, Dr. Phillips Charities.”

Preliminary plans for the new building include classrooms as well as state-of-the-art learning labs for health assessment, essential skills and virtual reality located in an expanded space for the College of Nursing’s accredited Simulation, Technology, Innovation & Modeling Center, an international leader in providing high-quality simulation experiences to prepare students for clinical practice.

The design also calls for new research space — to include wet and dry labs — along with a host of student study spaces. When the new building is complete, the College of Nursing will relocate from its current location in Research Park and will have almost double its current square footage.

The location at the UCF Academic Health Sciences Campus also will offer students and faculty new opportunities for collaboration and enhanced learning and research experiences.

“I am proud to be a UCF Knight nurse, joining thousands of UCF nursing graduates on the frontline to provide compassionate, quality care to our community. We are impacting human lives, your friends, your family, your neighbors here in Central Florida. I have never felt so fulfilled, as there is nothing more heartwarming or rewarding than when I provide comfort to a patient and bring a smile to their face,” says Sayid Yasin ’22, accelerated second degree BSN alumnus. “Without a doubt, our community needs more Knight nurses to care for our community, and Dr. Phillips Charities’ generosity is going to help make that possible.”

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Gates Foundation pledges $7B for health, farming in Africa

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Bill Gates, on a visit to Kenya, has announced his foundation will spend $7 billion to improve health, gender equality and farming in Africa.

The new pledge will be spent over the next four years and is in addition to existing Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funding to strengthen health systems across the continent.

“Africa’s young people have the talent and opportunity to accelerate progress and help solve the world’s most pressing problems,” Gates said.

The new funding comes as countries in East Africa and the Horn of Africa face the worst drought in decades.

“We will invest in local institutions and new collaborations that build the long-term resilience needed to make these crises less frequent and less devastating,” Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman said.

On his visit to Kenya, Gates has been visiting primary healthcare centers, leading medical and agricultural research institutes, and smallholder farms.

During the visits he learned from partners about “what programs and approaches are making an impact, what obstacles remain, and how the foundation can better support future progress,” the foundation said in a statement.

“The foundation will continue to invest in the researchers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and healthcare workers who are working to unlock the tremendous human potential that exists across the continent,” he said.

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USDA program keeps extra COVID-era money for fruits, veggies

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U.S. agriculture officials proposed changes Thursday to the federal program that helps pay the grocery bills for low-income pregnant women, babies and young children, including extending a bump in payments for fresh fruits and vegetables allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The update also adds more whole grains, canned fish and non-dairy options to their shopping carts. The effort is aimed at expanding the number and type of healthy foods available to families who get assistance from the Agriculture Department’s program known as WIC, officials said.

“These proposals will promote healthier lifestyles and brighter futures for millions of children,” said Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services.

The revisions would make permanent payments authorized by Congress during the COVID-19 pandemic that increased vouchers for fruits and vegetables to $25 a month for children ages 1 to 5 and to $49 a month for breastfeeding women.

“This increase in fruits and vegetables has really made it attractive for families to have their children in the program longer,” said Geraldine Henchy, director of nutrition policy for the nonprofit Food Research & Action Center, who applauded the changes. “Kids really love fruit.”

At the same time, the plan would reduce the amounts of some foods, for example reducing or eliminating juice allowed for some recipients. It also reduces the amount of milk and cheese covered under the program, a move that drew immediate criticism from the dairy industry.

“It is unfortunate for WIC participants that the proposed rule would decrease access to dairy products and the unique nutrient profile they provide,” the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation said in a statement.

More than 6.2 million pregnant women, mothers, babies and young children participate in the program annually. The federal government currently pays about $5 billion a year to run the program, which is administered through states and other jurisdictions. The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children provides vouchers to mothers and children who qualify and specifically lists the amount and types of food they can buy.

“It reflects the fact that different people have different capacities to tolerate different kinds of food,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak said.

More canned fish, such as tuna, would be available as well as easy-to-prepare canned beans, in addition to dried beans, officials said. The plan would also change the amount of infant formula provided to partially breastfed babies.

Increasing the voucher for fruits and vegetables to $25 a month during the pandemic has allowed Elizabeth Loya, 28, of Los Angeles, to encourage her 4-year-old daughter, Gisselle, to sample new foods.

“She tried Brussels sprouts and, two weeks ago, she tried asparagus,” Loya said. “She liked them.”

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