Orange County’s largest theme parks will likely remain shut for many more months after the state of California released long-awaited guidelines on Oct. 20 for their reopening.
Under the guidelines, major theme parks will only be permitted to reopen in counties that have reached the least-restrictive “yellow” tier of the state’s four-tier COVID-19 economic-reopening roadmap.
Orange County is in the “red,” or second, tier of that matrix. The announcement means that Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, Orange County’s largest theme parks, will be unlikely to reopen for many months.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said that smaller theme parks, which have a capacity of 15,000 people or less, will be allowed to reopen when the counties in which they are located reach the moderate tier in the state’s monitoring list.
“These smaller theme parks can resume operations in tier three, or orange tier. These will be limited in capacity up to 25 percent or 500 visitors, whichever is fewer,” Ghaly said during an Oct. 20 press conference introducing the guidelines.
“They can only operate with outdoor attractions, and ticket sales must be limited to visitors in the same county.”
Larger theme parks will not be allowed to open until their respective counties enter the yellow tier—the least restrictive tier in the state’s roadmap. Even then, the large parks will only be allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity.
“Even in that yellow tier, all theme parks are going to be required to implement reservation systems,” Ghaly said.
He said “presale of tickets” would be required so that people would not show up unexpectedly.
The theme parks will then “have the ability then to screen guests for symptoms in advance, and know again who was in the park when … potentially as a tool to make contact tracing easier, if that is a tool that’s needed to track down individuals who were potentially exposed,” Ghaly said.
Along with a reduced attendance capacity, all reopened theme parks will be required to have mandatory masks for employees and guests, social distancing between groups, increased sanitizing protocols, and extensive employee training.
In order to reach the yellow tier on the state’s monitoring list, a county must have less than one new case of COVID-19 per every 100,000 people and a positivity test rate of less than 2 percent. It must also meet certain health equity metrics.
As of Oct. 20, Orange County reported 4.6 positive cases per 100,000 people and a testing positivity rate of 3.2 percent.
Disappointment in Anaheim
Mike Lyster, chief communications officer for Disneyland’s home city of Anaheim, told The Epoch Times that the city is “extremely disappointed” by the announcement.
“We have gone through seven months of unprecedented shutdown of theme parks and our convention center, and we have seen the toll that that has taken,” Lyster said.
“We are at 12 percent unemployment—that is 20,000 people. We have seen hotels and small businesses shut because there’s not enough folks here to make enough demand for them.
“And we now know that with the guidelines that came out today that it will be many more months before we could see the parks reopen, and that will be devastating.”
Lyster said an extensive variety of measures have been put into place at Disneyland to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“I have toured the parks and I’ve seen what they have put in place. Next to a hospital, it is the most extensive I have seen of any business in Anaheim,” Lyster said.
He noted that despite what the governor’s office claims, the Orange County Health Care Agency and Disney’s employee unions have indicated that Disneyland could reopen safely in the orange, or third tier, which he said is “in sight” for the county.
“Getting to tier four for a large urban county like ours is going to be a challenge,” Lyster said.
“We will get there—and we’re making great progress—but there’s a lot that needs to be done yet, and to get to tier one is just too many months out, and we are going to see a lot of pain in the very near term.”
At the press conference, Ghaly said there was a fear that if large parks such as Disneyland were allowed to reopen in tier three, they would see groups of people traveling from farther away, including from other counties, which could increase the spread of COVID-19.
Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu also expressed his disappointment with the theme park guidelines set forth by the state.
“These guidelines fail working families and small businesses,” Sidhu said in a statement posted on Twitter.
“As painful as this is, Disney and the city of Anaheim will survive. But too many Anaheim hotels, stores and restaurants will not survive another year of this. … The unions of the Disneyland Resort agree and support the opening of the theme parks in Tier 3—not Tier 4, which would wipe out jobs in our city and destroy lives.”
Disney officials did not respond to a request for comment by The Epoch Times prior to publication.
Orange County Officials Weigh In
Dr. Clayton Chau, the Orange County Health Care Agency director and the county health officer, predicted Orange County would not make it to the yellow tier until next summer—and that depends on the availability of a vaccine and whether 65 percent to 70 percent of residents take it.
“It depends on when the vaccine comes and how many there are for our population and how many of our residents will accept the vaccine,” he told the Board of Supervisors. “Those are the three factors that will determine how we reach the yellow tier.”
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, the president of the California State Association of Counties, said she has been pushing for state officials to also factor in hospital capacity when determining what businesses can open.
“Disney has very stringent health and safety protocols,” Bartlett said. “They’re open all over the world with no spikes in COVID.”
Restricting large amusement parks to the yellow tier is “ridiculous,” Bartlett said.
“A county like ours—getting to less than one case per 100,000—we’re talking potentially years out,” Bartlett said. “We can’t keep our economy restricted for that amount of time.”
In-Person Attendance at Sporting Events
Ghaly also announced that the state will allow some in-person attendance at professional sporting events, again with significant restrictions.
In-person attendance will be permitted at 20 percent capacity in counties that are in the orange or third tier of the state’s matrix, and at 25 percent capacity in the least-restrictive yellow tier of the system.
Tickets for such events can only be sold to people who live within a 120-mile radius of the venue. All tickets must be purchased in advance with assigned seating, meaning no day-of sales.
Spectators will be required to wear face coverings, with eating and drinking permitted only in assigned seats. Tailgating is also prohibited.
Bartlett pointed out that if that metric was applied to Anaheim, half of the radius includes the ocean.
Ghaly said the rules apply only to professional sports, with college athletics still barred from having fans in attendance.
He drew a distinction between theme parks and sporting events, saying ticketed sales at a sports stadium allows for more control and location of crowds to prevent mixing.
“Part of what has guided this is this notion that there’s higher-risk settings and lower-risk settings,” Ghaly said.
“Over the last many weeks we’ve been talking to you about that difference … the fact that some settings can be modified significantly to reduce risk and others are harder to modify just by the nature of the activities.”
City News Service contributed to this report.