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Disneyland to reopen? No time soon under new California theme park guidelines

  • October 20, 2020

LOS ANGELES – California health officials issued theme park rules Tuesday that make it clear Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and other top attractions won’t reopen anytime soon.

The guidelines require that large theme parks can’t open until the county in which they are situated reaches the highest of four tiers when it comes to COVID-19 spread. As might be expected, the plan brought an immediate rebuke from Disneyland’s top official as unfair, unworkable and sure to keep the park shut.

Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm are in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, which is in the third category, labeled “substantial.” Universal Studios Hollywood is in Los Angeles County, which is in the lowest category, “widespread.”

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of Health and Human Services, said on a conference call that the guidelines are realistic, noting that San Francisco County achieved the highest level. That level requires there be less than one case a day per 100,000 residents and a testing positivity rate of less than 2%.

“We believe it is possible, and San Francisco is a great case in point,” he said, though it requires “a lot of work” and “a lot of vigilance” on the part of officials and citizens to protect themselves and their neighbors from the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

But Disneyland President Ken Potrock issued a statement blasting the state’s new rules as “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 acknowledged the rules won’t allow Disneyland, Orange County’s largest employer, to reopen anytime soon.

“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 said​​​​​​.

Likewise, the head of the state’s major theme park industry group, called the rules disappointing. Other large parks around the world have been operating safely for months, and “there is no rational reason to believe they can’t do so in California,” said Erin Guerrero, executive director of the California Attractions and Parks Association.

Under the rules, when large theme parks are allowed to reopen, they will be limited to 25% capacity.

California created a separate set of guidelines for smaller attractions, those under normal capacity of 15,000, allowing them to reopen at the “moderate” level, but only with outdoor attractions and also only at 25% capacity.

Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated during his weekly news conference Monday that it was important to recognize differences in the nature of different theme parks.

“We’re going to break up the theme parks,” Newsom said. “It’s not just one or two brands. It’s many different parts that are part of the theme park industry.” 

California’s approach is markedly different than what has occurred in Florida. California’s Orange County reported coronavirus cases at a rate of 37 cases per week per 100,000 people for the week of Oct. 13-19, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Orange County, Florida, home to Disney World, reported coronavirus cases at a rate of 101 cases per week per 100,000 people for the same period. That’s nearly three times California’s infection rate, and yet Florida has allowed theme parks there to remain open while California’s remain shuttered.

“It seems to me that the guidelines that are set up by the state of California are more stringent than any state across the country,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek told CNBC in an interview last week.

Newsom has repeatedly cited the arrival of cooler temperatures and flu season as grounds for additional caution.

“This is an area of obvious and real concern,” Newsom said during his news conference. “That’s why we’re being very sober, and – forgive me – stubborn about some industries in the state that I know are eager to get guidelines.”

The parks have been been closed for seven months now and in limbo since the summer as they waited for the state to announce the benchmarks for reopening.  Disneyland, which scrapped its planned July 17 reopening because of this summer’s COVID-19 spike, and Universal Studios could only watch and take notes as their Florida counterparts reopened. 

But even though Disney’s and Universal’s Orlando parks opened without spurring new COVID-19 surges, it wasn’t enough to prevent financial upheaval. In late September, Disney announced layoffs of 28,000 employees in California and Florida, and Disney World shortened its hours in response to smaller-than-anticipated crowds. The city of Anaheim, where Disneyland is located, now expects a fiscal-year deficit of at least $75 million, instead of the surplus that had been expected before the pandemic struck.

Deadline and Yahoo News have both reported that Universal Studios Hollywood has laid off more than 2,200 park workers, cutting 1,374 positions permanently and furloughing an additional 849, though NBCUniversal wouldn’t comment on the exact number to either outlet.

On Saturday, the Coalition of Resort Labor Unions, which had opposed Disneyland’s July reopening, sent a letter to Newsom saying that Disney had listened to its employees and demonstrated it can operate its parks safely. 

Newsom stressed Monday that the guidelines are being crafted “with our eyes wide open on what’s happening now around the world. We have to maintain that vigilance so we can avoid any further increase in transmission.”

‘Magical Disney experience’ going away?  What Disney’s layoffs mean for theme park guests

Contributing: Mike Stucka, USA TODAY

Article source: http://rssfeeds.usatoday.com/~/637301194/0/usatodaycomtravel-topstories~Disneyland-to-reopen-No-time-soon-under-new-California-theme-park-guidelines/

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