California theme parks may seek legal action to speed up reopening

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California theme parks are considering legal action to pressure the state to allow theme parks to reopen.“All options are open at this point,” Erin Guerrero, executive director of the California Attractions and Parks Association, said at a press conference Wednesday.

State parks received devastating news on Tuesday that they would not be allowed to reopen unless cases in their counties hit the “minimum” level of less than one case per 100,000 residents.

Currently, Orange County, where California’s two Disneyland parks are located, has 4.6 cases per 100,000 population and is listed in the “substantial” range, just above “moderate”. A moderate designation would mean that there are between 1 and 3.9 cases per 100,000 population.

Smaller theme parks with a capacity of 15,000 visitors or less will be allowed to reopen when their counties reach the “moderate” level of circulation, the state said.

Los Angeles County, where Universal Studios Hollywood is located, has 10.1 cases per 100,000 people.

“I don’t know when Orange County will enter the yellow (minimum) tier,” California health secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said at a press briefing Tuesday.

Ghaly said state officials have visited a number of theme parks and spoken to operators about the reopening guidelines. A combination of factors influenced the state’s decision, including the time spent in parks, the number of people coming from afar, and the number of points of contact for the infection to potentially spread.

Typically, park visitors to places like Disneyland or Universal Studios are tourists and will spend days at the park for several hours. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said coronavirus infections are more likely to occur the longer people interact with.

Because people travel around a theme park and don’t stay in a socially safe place, like a seat at a sporting event, for example, the likelihood of catching Covid-19 is much higher, Ghaly said. .

Strict guidelines from California health officials are pushing these parks to reopen by months. Along with Guerrero at the press conference were senior executives from Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Legoland and Knott’s Berry Farm. All of these parks have been closed since mid-March due to the ongoing pandemic.

These delays are devastating for these theme park businesses, which have collectively lost billions in the past eight months. In September, Disney was forced to lay off 28,000 employees at its theme parks, blaming California restrictions for the move.

“Pushing us into rank four behind other businesses that have already reopened just doesn’t make sense,” said Karen Irwin, president and chief operating officer of Universal Studios Hollywood on Tuesday. “It ignores science, reason and the economic devastation it will cause for the thousands of our employees, the indirect businesses that depend on us and our industry as a whole. ”

“We should be at level three, with other industries that have proven they can responsibly reopen,” she said. “Our employees are ready to return to work and it is shameful that they cannot do so until the end of next year. ”

Meanwhile, Florida’s major theme parks have reopened without any significant incidents being reported. These parks have instituted strict social distancing guidelines, employee testing, and mandatory mask policies.

“We’ve proven that we can responsibly reopen, with science-based health and safety protocols strictly enforced at our theme park properties around the world,” Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort said Tuesday.

“Nonetheless, the State of California continues to ignore this fact, instead imposing arbitrary guidelines that it knows to be unworkable and that hold us to a very different standard from other reopened businesses and state-run facilities. ”

Epidemiologists like Dr. Ravina Kullar, a Los Angeles-based infectious disease specialist and spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, consider the California guidelines “wise.”

“Theme parks, even if they are outdoors, can be a playground for this virus,” Kullar said.

Kullar said that although these parks are outdoors, there are a lot of strangers and there is no way of knowing if they are safe in their daily lives.

“Being in a theme park, it will be very difficult for people to keep their face masks, physically away, to keep hand hygiene in mind and not to gather in droves,” she says. “In the meantime, if you want Disneyland and Universal Studios to open up, take the virus seriously and hide it. ”

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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