The State of California has shared the reopening guidelines for theme parks in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but as a result, Disney and Universal likely won’t reopen for quite some time.
According to the guidelines set, smaller theme parks can reopen when their respective counties are in Tier 3, which the state labels as “Moderate” spread (coded as “Orange”). These theme parks will have to limit capacity to 25% or 500 guests, whichever is fewer, and will only be able to open outdoor attractions. Ticket sales will be limited to visitors from the same county only.
As for all other theme parks, including Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood, they may resume operations when their counties are in Tier 4, otherwise known as “Minimal” spread (coded as “Yellow”). These parks will have to limit their capacity to 25%. In addition, all theme parks will have to implement a reservation system and screen guests for symptoms in advance, and face coverings will be mandatory throughout the parks unless guests are eating or drinking.
But what does “Minimal” mean in order for Disney and Universal to reopen? According to California’s COVID-19 website, “Minimal” spread means that the county must maintain less than one daily new cases (per 100,000), less than 2% positive tests and less than 2.2% health equity metric for two consecutive weeks. If a county’s metrics get worse over two consecutive weeks, it will be assigned a more restrictive tier.
Currently, Orange County, where Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm are located, is in the “Substantial” tier (coded as “Red”), just one level down from the highest “Widespread” tier. Los Angeles County, where Universal resides, sits at the “Widespread” tier. Both counties will have to have significant reduction in the spread of COVID-19 in order for the parks to reopen to guests and cast members to return to work.
The President of Disneyland Resort, Ken Potrock, shared a statement in response to the reopening guidelines:
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.Ken Potrock, president, Disneyland Resort
Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency said “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. Personally, I think that we can look forward to a yellow tier by next summer, hopefully. Hopefully.”
This update comes just over a week after Disney’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Pamela Hymel, rejected Newsom’s previous statement on having a “health-first” approach to reopening. This past month, Disney also laid off 28,000 domestic employees across all levels of the company.
For now, it appears that while the California parks finally have a path to reopening, it definitely won’t be easy.