Disneyland, California theme parks set to reopen

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Facing increased pressure from business owners and mayors of cities with theme parks, California health officials have issued park operating protocols, giving destinations such as Disneyland, Universal Studios and Knott’s Berry Farm a reopening track.Large parks face stricter requirements than smaller ones, and Disneyland won’t be able to open for several weeks at the earliest.

“There is a way forward. We don’t know when, but we know how ”the parks will reopen, said Dr Mark Ghaly, Secretary of State for Health and Human Services.

Protocols announced on Tuesday allow a large park to reopen once transmission of the coronavirus in its county of origin is sufficient for the county to reach Level 4 – the state’s least restrictive designation.

A small park, meanwhile, can accommodate guests once its home county hits Level 3, the second least restrictive level.

Ghaly also set other restrictions: All parks must sell tickets in advance to facilitate contact tracing, and face masks will be mandatory except for eating or drinking.

Large theme parks will be limited to 25% of their capacity.

Small theme parks will be limited to 25% of their capacity or 500 visitors, whichever is less; can only accept visitors who live in the county; and can only operate outdoor attractions.

The announcement comes four months after Florida theme parks, including the four Walt Disney World parks, were allowed to reopen with capacity limits, mask and temperature control requirements and disposal events that attract people to gather such as parades and fireworks shows. Disneyland parks in Paris, Shanghai and Hong Kong Disneyland have also reopened.

The question of when and how to reopen California theme parks has been a difficult one. Parks began in September to publicly pressure Governor Gavin Newsom to clear the way for reopening. Business interests and local politicians joined in the chorus. The executive chairman of Walt Disney Co. has resigned from Newsom’s economic task force.

Disneyland in Anaheim has been closed since March.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A coalition of unions representing workers at the Disneyland Resort issued a statement on Monday asking the governor to include them in reopening talks. The unions said they have reached agreements with Disneyland management over safety protocols.

Newsom’s original draft guidelines would have allowed theme parks to reopen only when their home counties reached the fourth and final level of the governor’s plan for a safer economy opening plan, park officials say theme involved in meetings with the governor.

A county is assigned to one of four levels based on the number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 population and the rate of positive tests it has, as well as a measure of fairness. The lower the number of cases and the rate of positive tests, the less restrictions are placed on schools and businesses. The first level is the most restrictive; the fourth is the least restrictive.

A county must remain in a level for at least three weeks before moving to a less restrictive level.

Los Angeles County, home to Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain, is in the most restrictive tier. Orange County, home to Disneyland, Disney California Adventure Park, and Knott’s Berry Farm, is the second most restrictive.

State theme parks voluntarily closed in March after California recommended canceling all gatherings of more than 250 people amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

The closures have taken an economic toll on the state, especially cities in Southern California.

Cal State Fullerton researchers estimate that the Disneyland Resort alone normally contributes $ 8.5 billion a year to the Southern California economy and, before the pandemic, employed around 31,000 workers, accounting for 3.6% of all jobs in Orange County.

In Anaheim, the unemployment rate in August was still above 12% – almost the same as the unemployment spike caused by the Great Recession – and Mayor Harry Sidhu said the city was facing a projected deficit of $ 100 million. dollars in part because of the loss of hotel taxes paid. by overnight visitors.

Although theme parks have reopened in Florida and other states, the pandemic resulted in economic losses of $ 23 billion for theme parks across the country in 2020, according to the International Assn. amusement parks and attractions, a business group with members in over 100 countries.

Pressure on Newsom to issue guidelines for reopening theme parks began to build last month, with Disney officials and mayors of Anaheim and two adjacent towns speaking out over the financial effects. closures and noting that Disney Parks in Florida reopened in July.

Newsom was due to announce the protocols on October 2, but the California Attractions and Parks Assn. hesitated after seeing a draft. He asked him to delay and work with the parks in what the association’s executive director called “in a more serious way, listening to the expertise of park operators and working with industry.”

Also that week, Disney executive chairman Bob Iger resigned from Newsom’s task force on business and employment recovery – a stark public confirmation of the mounting tensions.

Newsom has since sent a team of people to open theme parks in other states to find out what precautions those parks have taken to deter the spread of the coronavirus.

In the spring, Disney laid off more than 100,000 workers at its theme parks, cruise lines and movie studio division and continued to provide these workers with health care benefits. But, facing continued financial pressure, the Burbank-based company on September 29 announced plans to lay off 28,000 employees in its Parks, Experiences and Products division, which includes Disneyland Resort and Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim and Walt Disney World in Orlando. , in Florida.

The cuts affect employees across the United States, but Disney executives attribute their decision in part to “California’s refusal to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen.”

Universal Studios Hollywood declined to say how many workers it had laid off, but The Hollywood Reporter reported that the park had laid off at least 849 employees and permanently cut 1,374 employees in Los Angeles County since July 1. The park noted that the company continued to pay for health benefits for all workers on leave.

Southern California theme parks have made efforts to keep revenue flowing during closures, with Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland Resort reopening their adjacent shopping districts and restaurants this summer.

Knott’s Berry Farm has started an outdoor dining and retail effort called Taste of Knott’s where visitors can eat, drink and shop for souvenirs in sections of the park on weekends.

Disney, Universal Studios and Knott’s have enforced health and safety protocols for reopened shopping and dining areas, including temperature control of all guests before entering, as well as mask requirements and physical distance.

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