Just minutes after California’s Director of Health and Human Services on Tuesday unveiled restrictive new guidelines under which amusement parks in the state could reopen, the industry fired back.
“We have proven that we can responsibly reopen, with science-based health and safety protocols strictly enforced at our theme park properties around the world,” said Disneyland Resort president Ken Potrock. “Nevertheless, the State of California continues to ignore this fact, instead 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.”
California’s director of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly said on Tuesday that smaller theme parks can resume operations in the state’s Orange Tier. Capacity will be limited to 25% or 500 visitors, whichever is fewer. Only outdoor attractions may reopen and only to guests who are residents of the same county.
All theme parks — including Disneyland in Anaheim and Universal Studios Hollywood — may resume operations in Tier 4, Yellow, which is much further down the road. At that point, the guest limit is 25% across the board and indoor dining establishments can only operate at 25% capacity.
“We should be in Tier Three, along with other industries that have proven they can reopen responsibly,” said Karen Irwin, President & COO, Universal Studios Hollywood. “Our employees are ready to go back to work and the fact that they won’t be able to do so until well into next year is shameful.”
The new guidelines mandate asks must be worn in all parks at all times, except when visitors are eating or drinking. Reservations will be required for all parks, with temperature checks at the gate.
Orange County, where Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm are, is currently solidly in the Orange Tier. Los Angeles, home to Universal Studios, is in the most restrictive tier, Purple.
“Together with our labor unions we want to get people back to work,” continued Potrock, “but 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.”
“Pushing us into Tier Four behind other businesses that have already reopened makes no sense,” said Irwin. “It ignores science, reason and the economic devastation this will bring to the thousands of our employees, the indirect businesses that rely on us and our industry overall.”
Orange County’s Health Officer, Dr. Clayton Chau, seemed to agree when he spoke before the O.C. Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
“I think for a large county like us, especially a county with institutions of higher education where folks [are] coming in from outside the county and outside the state, I think it’s going to be very hard to achieve the yellow tier,” said Chau.
“It depends on when the vaccine will come as well as how many doses [are] available for our populations as well as how many of our residents will readily accept the vaccine – those are the three factors that will determine how soon we can get to the yellow tier,” speculated Chau. “Personally, I think that we can look forward to a yellow tier by next summer, hopefully. Hopefully.”
“The health and safety of our guests and team members has always been our top priority,” insisted Universal Studios’ Irwin. “We have designed detailed health and safety protocols that allowed us to open our theme parks in Orlando, Osaka and Singapore. We have collaborated with L.A. County health and government officials on a comprehensive plan to move forward safely here, and we are prepared and ready to reopen. Our theme parks are controlled primarily outdoor businesses that we have proven we can operate responsibly.”
Ghaly said during his press conference that the state separated parks into two groups: those that have a capacity of 15,000 or fewer guests and those that can welcome more than 15,000.
Asked about the seeming impossibility of large counties moving into the Yellow tier, Ghaly noted that San Francisco recently moved into yellow.
But Kurt Stocks, President, Legoland California Resort was less hopeful.
“The guidance issued today by the state is arbitrary and unacceptable to the industry,” said Stocks. “Not allowing theme parks to open until Tier 4 will destroy the industry in California and the economic impact to industries that rely heavily on theme parks will be catastrophic. The administration’s actions to this point have cost tens of thousands of jobs across the industry, and today’s announcement will all but confirm that thousands more will be lost.”
Continued Stocks, Legoland California Resort has developed a comprehensive and robust reopening plan, taking every precaution to meet and exceed guidelines given to other businesses and industries since voluntarily closing seven months ago. All seven other Legoland Parks around the world have reopened safely with millions of guests and twenty thousand employees going through the gates without any COVID-19 incidents. The guidance from the Governor is grossly inconsistent with the guidelines given to other industries and lacks any scientific basis that can be supported by the CDPH.”
Raffi Kaprelyan, Regional Vice President, Cedar Fair, which operates Knott’s Berry Farm, California’s Great America, and Gilroy Gardens said, “Cedar Fair is extremely disappointed and frustrated with the lack of reasonable consideration given to the opening of California’s most popular theme parks. Our company has safely operated 7 of its 13 parks across the U.S. this year with zero cases of COVID-19 being traced back to our properties.”
“Our safety protocols have been proven effective, exceeding state requirements where we’ve opened,” said Kaprelyan. “Following capacity parameters, we feel strongly that both Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park and California’s Great America in Santa Clara should be allowed to open under the same guidance afforded smaller parks such as Gilroy Gardens, which also operates under Cedar Fair management.”
Erin Guerrero, executive director of the California Attractions and Parks Association, issued the following statement after the plan was unveiled.
To say today’s announcement on theme parks is disappointing would be a grave understatement. The Governor has not used science or data to inform his decision. Theme parks have opened and operated safely around the world for months. Data and science prove that theme parks can operate responsibly anywhere – there is no rational reason to believe they can’t do so in California. No one cares more about park employee and guest safety than the parks themselves. “Let me be unequivocal– the guidance issued by the Newsom Administration will keep theme parks shuttered for the foreseeable future. By forcing amusement parks to stay closed until their home county reaches Tier 4, the Governor has issued a “Keep Theme Parks Closed Indefinitely” Plan which will devastate California’s major theme park industry.
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