October 20, 2020 at 10:39 pm PDT | by Brody Levesque
Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, & other theme parks could reopen at 25% capacity
Courtesy of Disney Parks

SACRAMENTO – California’s Secretary of Health and Human services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, announced Tuesday that the state has set strict guidelines for reopening theme parks. Speaking to reporters in his weekly virtual press briefing, Ghaly laid out the parameters under the state’s color-coded tier coronavirus reopening system that would allow parks like Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and Knott’s Berry Farm to recommence guest operations.

Ghaly told reporters that once the counties that parks are located in reached the lowest tier- yellow, based on factors of positivity rates, testing and hospitalizations, then parks will be able to open at 25% capacity.

Under the tier system, yellow is assigned to a county when its daily new cases are under 1 per 100,000, and positive testing for COVID-19 is under 2%. According to Ghaly only nine of California’s 58 counties are currently in the yellow tier.

Asked by a reporter from the Orange County Register if there is a time frame under consideration Ghaly responded saying, “There is a path forward. We don’t know when, but we know how.”

Home to Disneyland in Anaheim and Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Orange County is currently in the red tier — daily new cases are between 4 and 7 per 100,000, and positive testing for COVID-19 is between 4% and 7%.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Orange County Board Of Supervisors, the county’s health director Dr. Clayton Chau told supervisors, “I think for a large county like us, especially a county with institutions of higher education with folks coming in from outside the county and outside the state, I think it’s going to be very hard to achieve the yellow tier.”

A spokesperson for the county acknowledged to the Blade Tuesday afternoon that with tier requirements it likely will be well over a month before the two top tourist destinations in Southern California will be able to reopen

In Los Angeles County, home to Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain, prospects for reopening those attractions in the next few months aren’t good as LA County continues to operate in the most restrictive color tier of purple.

The guidelines issued today mandate required use of Face coverings at all theme parks with the exception of guests who are eating or drinking. The California Department of Health guidelines require all parks implement a reservation system that screens guests in advance for any COVID-19 symptoms.

Today’s announcement was met with severe criticism from Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort,

“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,” he said in a statement.

“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,” he added.

UPDATED: Wednesday Oct 21. The Hollywood Reporter: “A group of officials from California’s major theme parks gathered Wednesday for a virtual press conference to once again voice their outrage over the state’s reopening guidelines for their businesses. They went so far as to say legal action is being considered.” Link here.

Last month, the Chairman of the Burbank-based Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products Josh D’Amaro announced that his division of Disney would be laying off 28,000 staff known in the company as Cast Members at Disney parks in Orlando and Anhaeim. D’Amaro placed the reason on the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic in both Florida and California, however he also took aim at the restrictions in California imposed by Governor Gavin Newsom to limit large gatherings.

The Blade reached out to a cast member who identifies as non-binary queer and works in a supervisory position at Disneyland in Anaheim when the company announced the massive layoffs in September. They spoke to the Blade on the condition of remaining anonymous.

“The past six months have really sucked because the park has remained shuttered. The virus isn’t getting better- at least not in new infections especially here in Orange County. The state won’t let us reopen and this is hurting most of my friends who also work for the park,” they said. “The unemployment (insurance relief) is all screwed up too and many of us can’t pay rent- one friend lost his car this makes it worse like for the part-timers especially,” they added.

Contacted Tuesday for comment about Dr. Ghaly’s announcement of the guidelines for reopening they said, “At this point most of us are resigned to the fact our jobs are gone for good regardless of what the company (Disney) tells us. With no economic relief, no government assistance, I don’t know what I or my friends especially fellow queers are going to do.”

The head of the California Attractions and Parks Association, Erin Guerrero, also blasted Ghaly and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“To say today’s announcement on theme parks is disappointing would be a grave understatement,” she said in a statement. “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 responsibly anywhere – 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.

California’s theme parks have been shutdown since mid-March.

Disney’s Walt Disney World complex in Orlando, Florida which also ceased operations in March, reopened this past July with increased coronavirus protections and safety measures, as well as reduced visitor capacity.

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