California’s theme parks have been waiting months for a reopening plan from the state’s governor, and it’s finally arrived. California’s Health and Human Services Agency has unveiled what it will take for Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, and other theme parks to open during the novel coronavirus pandemic—and let’s just say it’s going to take awhile for it to happen.
During a livestream presentation on Tuesday, CHHS Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly shared plans to reopen California theme parks and outdoor stadiums as part of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which allows counties to resume various activities based on their placement within a color scale—yellow, orange, red, and purple—that indicates the number of positive cases. According to Ghaly, smaller theme parks like boardwalks can reopen in “orange” zones at 25% capacity, but only for outdoor rides and activities. Larger theme parks like Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and others will only be able to reopen if they’re located in counties that are designated “yellow” zones, which is the lowest level a county can be at before eradicating the coronavirus.
Orange County, where Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure are located, is currently a “red” zone. This means the county has to drastically reduce its number of coronavirus cases in order for the park to reopen at 25% capacity, which is the maximum allowed under this new plan. In addition, it will have to implement reservation systems, screen guests before entry, and require masks at all times. But again, that’s only until the county itself gets coronavirus under control—and considering how much of Southern California is considered a “red” or “purple” zone, it’s going to take a lot of time and work.
In a statement released on Twitter, Disneyland Resort president Ken Potrock criticized the decision, noting that it will most likely keep both parks closed for the foreseeable future and could lead to more job losses. Here’s their response in full:
“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.”
Many of California’s theme parks, including Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Knott’s Berry Farm, have been closed since March because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Since then, several Disney parks in Florida and around the world have reopened, leaving only Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure with their doors closed. Disney Parks had announced plans to reopen in July but later postponed because the state had not issued a reopening plan. The state’s seen some difficult months with numerous covid-19 cases and deaths, including seeing a single-day surge of over 11,000 cases in August. The numbers have gone down since then, averaging around 2,000-4,500 daily cases on average (with 2.4% positivity rate), leading the state to reopen things like indoor dining and movie theaters.
Despite seeing improvements in the state, Governor Newsom has kept theme parks off the menu, despite repeated attempts from California Attractions and Parks Association—which represents California’s Disney Parks, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm, and others—to settle on a path for reopening. It’s been a constant push and pull between state officials and park representatives. At one point, Disney Parks cited the ongoing closures in California as one of the reasons it was announcing a layoff of over 28,000 resort employees last month. Since then, a coalition of Disney union employees has issued their support of reopening Disneyland, something many workers were speaking out against earlier this year for safety concerns.
But there are still some major concerns with reopening California’s theme parks. The state’s number of cases might be going down for the time being, but across the country, things are looking direr than ever. Over 220,000 people have died in the United States so far, and health experts are warning of a surge this fall and winter. One that will be exasperated by indoor events, family gatherings, and an increase in people resuming “normal” activities after months of social distancing.
There are already signs of the impending disaster. According to Covid Exit Strategy, about two-thirds of states have reached “Uncontrolled Spread” status, meaning cases have seen at least a 25% increase over the past two weeks. This includes Florida, which is seeing similar numbers to California albeit with a 12% positivity rate. Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando, and other theme parks have been open there for months.
This post has been updated to reflect comment from Ken Potrock.
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