He said there is “no hurry in putting out guidelines,” but state officials are continuing to work with amusement parks in California after the pandemic prompted closures in March. He called the process “very complex,” adding, “We don’t anticipate, in the immediate term, any of these larger theme parks opening until we see more stability in terms of the data.”
Newsom also revealed, following reports last week that Disney executive chairman Bob Iger had stepped down from the state’s economic recovery task force, that there were disagreements in working out guidelines for reopening Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and other theme parks.
When asked about Iger’s departure, he said that “I had a wonderful conversation with Bob [Iger], who had been very active and participatory in our task force and we’re incredibly grateful for his support, his insight and his counsel over the period of the last number of months — and it didn’t come as a surprise to me at all.”
“There’s disagreements in terms of opening a major theme park,” Newsom added. “We’re going to let science and data make that determination. I understand the dialectic, the friction, that many business leaders have that they want to move forward sectorally [sic] to reopen, but we are going to be led by a health-first framework and we’re going to be stubborn about it.”
Newsom’s comments follow the Walt Disney Company’s announcement last Tuesday that it would lay off more than 28,000 employees amid the continued COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced businesses across the country to temporarily close or limit capacity. Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. has kept its doors closed since mid-March (though Downtown Disney has reopened), while Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. resumed business with reduced attendance limits and increased safety measures in July. Non-working employees have been on furlough since April; two-thirds of the impacted 28,000 U.S. workers are part-time.
A Workers United Local 50 spokesperson told Variety on Friday that over 2,800 Disney Parks food and beverage staffers it represents will be laid off, making it the hardest-hit union by sheer numbers. Per the union’s recent post on Facebook, 2,858 of 7,796 members who work at Disneyland and California Adventure will be impacted. Local 50 says it is one of the few unions that has full-time workers on the company’s list of layoffs.
Disney Parks head Josh D’Amaro previously blamed the state’s “unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen” exacerbated the situation. Over 823,000 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in the state, including over 16,100 deaths.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, which operates in the county that is home to Disneyland and California Adventure, has been in conversations with CDC medical officers and Disney over the reopening of the company’s theme parks, per the agency. He advocates that area theme parks reopen once Orange County reaches the more moderate Tier 3, or orange tier, in which there are 1-3.9 daily new cases per 100,000 people and a 2%-4.9% positive coronavirus test rate.
“I believe in looking at the effect of COVID-19 not only on physical health but also on emotional health and economic/financial health of the entire community/population, i.e., supporting work/employments for our citizens of course with safety in mind,” said Dr. Chau in a statement.
Behind the scenes at the parks, a source tells Variety that Disneyland has been continuing to operate as though it is preparing to reopen at a moment’s notice. While Halloween festivities at the parks were canceled, the traditional schedule to set up holiday decorations has not yet changed.
One Disneyland worker, who wanted to remain anonymous out of concern of professional repercussions, felt it was “distressing” that Disney executives’ salaries had been restored to pre-pandemic levels following a months-long reduction, given the layoff news this week. In April, the company reduced salaries of vice president-level executives and above by 20%, senior VP pay by 25%, and exec VP-level staff by 30%.
The theme park staffer added: “There’s an extreme wealth gap and with COVID, society has become even more aware of that. When a third of the employees are losing their jobs and then these people who already were making more than these part-time hourly cast members get their money back, it’s very out of touch. For every good message that comes out of Disney, there’s something like that that comes out.“
Statewide guidance for reopening theme parks had been expected to be released as early as last Friday. Those new standards will be incorporated into the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which outlines COVID-19 safety measures for various sectors.
“The COVID 19 pandemic has impacted the health and livelihoods of too many workers across this country,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly in a statement shared with Variety last week. “In California, our number one priority is to lead with public health to slow the spread of the virus to begin reopening our economy and get Californians back to work safely and sustainably. Our Blueprint for a Safer Economy is driven by science to keep the risk of COVID-19 transmission low. Without a vaccine it is impossible to eliminate the economic impacts caused by this virus, but by taking a measured data- and science-based approach to phasing in and out transmission prevention protocols, we can minimize the health and economic risks that would be caused by opening and shutting repeatedly. Until there’s a vaccine, the most important things all Californians can do to reduce COVID-19 transmission is masking, keeping physical distance and avoiding mixing when possible.”