The state of California has set strict guidelines for reopening Disneyland and other large theme parks in the coming months.
California’s director of health and human services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, announced on Tuesday at a news conference that large California theme parks will be able to open at 25% capacity when their counties reach the lowest, yellow, tier under the color-coded reopening system for counties, based on coronavirus prevalence and testing rates.
The yellow tier, or minimal designation, is assigned when daily new cases are under 1 per 100,000, and positive testing for COVID-19 is under 2%. Currently, only nine of California’s 58 counties are in the yellow tier.
Ghaly indicated it was unclear when theme parks can open, saying, “There is a path forward. We don’t know when, but we know how.”
Orange County, home to Disneyland in Anaheim, is currently in the red or substantial tier — meaning daily new cases are between 4 and 7 per 100,000, and positive testing for COVID-19 is between 4% and 7%. That designation probably means that Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park will have to wait a minimum of a month to reopen.
Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said Tuesday at a county supervisors meerting, “I think for a large county like us, especially a county with institution of higher education where folks [are] coming in from outside the county and outside the state, I think it’s going to be very hard to achieve the yellow tier.”
Prospects are even dimmer in Los Angeles County, where Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain are located, since the county remains in the state’s most-restrictive tier, purple.
Face coverings will be mandatory at all theme parks that reopen unless guests are eating or drinking. The state is also requiring that parks implement a reservation system that screens guests in advance for any COVID-19 symptoms.
Ghaly announced that sports stadiums could reopen if the county is in the orange tier, with 20% capacity and ticket sales limited to customers within a 120-mile radius.
Ghaly said theme parks are a “higher-risk setting,” while outdoor sporting events are a “lower-risk setting.” He also said a team of California health representatives checked out parks open in other states to learn what precautions they are taking to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Ghaly said the level of mixing without masks that state observers saw was concerning.
California’s theme parks have been shut since mid-March. Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., which also closed in March, reopened in mid-July with increased health and safety measures, as well as reduced visitor capacity. Disney leaders have been urging California officials in recent weeks to allow a reopening of Disneyland.
Disney announced on Sept. 29 that it was laying off 28,000 employees, two-thirds of whom are part-time, due to the pandemic’s impact on Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and blamed the state on California’s “unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen.”
Disney officials continued to complain Tuesday about California’s restrictions. Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort, said in a statement, “We have proven that we can responsibly reopen, with science-based health and safety protocols strictly enforced at our theme park properties around the world. Nevertheless, the State of California continues to ignore this fact, instead mandating arbitrary guidelines that it knows are unworkable and that hold us to a standard vastly different from other reopened businesses and state-operated facilities.”
“Together with our labor unions we want to get people back to work, but these State guidelines will keep us shuttered for the foreseeable future, forcing thousands more people out of work, leading to the inevitable closure of small family-owned businesses, and irreparably devastating the Anaheim/Southern California community,” Potrock added.
Erin Guerrero, executive director of the California Attractions and Parks Association, also blasted the state and Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“To say today’s announcement on theme parks is disappointing would be a grave understatement,” she said. “The Governor has not used science or data to inform his decision. Theme parks have opened and operated safely around the world for months. Data and science prove that theme parks can operate responsiblyanywhere – there is no rational reason to believe they can’t do so in California. No one cares more about park employee and guest safety than the parks themselves.“