California Releases Updated Guidelines for Reopenings but Leaves Large Theme Parks And The Cities That House Them With More Questions and Concerns.
California theme parks have been begging the state to issue a roadmap for them to reopen for months. Now, more than seven months after they closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, California Health and Human Services has released updated guidelines.
The new guidelines create a tier system that establishes different regulations for theme parks of different sizes. The reopening rules treat the largest operations, including Disneyland and Universal Studios, with the greatest degree of caution and leaves those businesses as well as the cities that rely on their revenue fighting for their lifelines.
Other, smaller parks, and facilities with some theme park-like activities are given a yellow light to move forward.
These guidelines are incredibly frustrating for larger entertainment companies trying to stay afloat and even more so for cities trying to provide a lifeline to struggling families and businesses.
For individuals who have been failed by the lack of leadership from California’s government during this pandemic due to lack of action and lack of communication, these guidelines could prove to be devastating.
Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu is not hiding his disappointment with the closeminded decisions of the state. Here is what he had to say.
“I am very mindful, for example, if you have a park, in a city, with a Ferris wheel, that that’s not a ‘theme park’ in the sense so many of us consider, so one has to distinguish between the two,” Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press conference prior to the release of today’s guidelines.
Small vs. Large
While small theme parks such as the Santa Monica Pier, will be able to begin opening as soon as the counties where they are located enter the Orange/3 Tier, they will have restrictions. They can have no more than 500 guests at a time, and can only sell tickets to buyers located within the county where they are located.
Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, SeaWorld San Diego, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Legoland California and other California theme parks can reopen under newly issued protocols that required mandatory masks, social distancing, increased sanitization, reduced attraction capacity and employee training.
However, in order to reopen, the areas must be in the yellow tier/4.
It could be months before that happens.
Orange County, home to Disneyland and several other large theme parks, is currently at the Orange/2 Tier, indicating “substantial” threat from COVID-19.
All theme parks, regardless of size, will be required to operate based only on advanced ticket sales. Records must be kept for those visiting the parks to provide contact tracing.
Most California counties with major theme parks fall into the second-most restrictive “substantial” risk level — including Orange (Disneyland and Knott’s), San Diego (SeaWorld and Legoland) and Solano (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom).
Los Angeles County — home to Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain — is in the most restrictive “widespread” risk level.
Santa Clara County — home to California’s Great America and the smaller Gilroy Gardens and Happy Hollow parks — is in the second-least restrictive “moderate” risk level.
The new guidelines mean Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and other large theme parks won’t be able to reopen for weeks or months until their respective counties reach the least-restrictive “minimal” risk level.
Reopening dates are likely to be pushed to next year for all large theme parks. This makes setting a reopening date difficult if not impossible. Which snowballs to employees looking for guidance on when steady paychecks will return. Without a firm reopening date, the parks can’t set staffing, training, ride testing and visitor reservation plans.
Disneyland Resort and the state of California have been involved in a war of words in recent weeks as the theme park has been asking for the opportunity to reopen, and the state has been in no hurry to let theme parks reopen. Today, the long-awaited guidelines for theme parks were released by the state, which is the important first step that parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood will need. However, those guidelines indicate it’s still going to be a while before those parks are able to open.
The dividing line between small and large theme parks is a capacity of 15,000 people, anything above that number is considered large. As noted above, while those small parks will be open to open sooner, they will still be limited to the health and safety protocols that we’re used to seeing. In addition, only people from within the county of the park can visit initially.
The good news is that Disneyland and other large parks now are clear on what will need to happen in order to reopen, the problem is that it’s going to be difficult to forecast in advance when the county is going to be able to reopen. Additionally, most of these policies are what Disney and others have already stated they will implement and have successfully implemented in other parts of the country and world.
These guidelines fall in line with where it was reported they were going to be back when California’s theme park lobbying organization asked the state to hold off on releasing them. Certainly, when Disneyland Resort has made it clear that it feels it can reopen now, guidelines that won’t let it do so are not going to sit well with the company.
This news and the stubborness of the State’s top officials could prove detrimental to many in Southern California. Whether you believe a theme park should be open or not, companies like Disney and Universal employ thousands and thousands of people who are desperate for a light, for positive news, for guidance.
Disney is not shy about their disappointment with this latest development and rightfully so. Disney has proven they can reopen safely and successfully. The California Governor has put his pride above his job and it is devastating to the economies that are struggling and on the brink of a despair they won’t bounce back from.