Newsom: ‘No hurry’ to let theme parks reopen

Noble Horvath

Amid calls from Orange County officials and statewide business leaders to let theme parks reopen, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday said “there’s no hurry putting out guidelines.” Newsom said while he understands the economic concerns related to the continued closures, he’s going to “let science and data make that determination.” […]

Amid calls from Orange County officials and statewide business leaders to let theme parks reopen, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday said “there’s no hurry putting out guidelines.”

Newsom said while he understands the economic concerns related to the continued closures, he’s going to “let science and data make that determination.”

Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and other theme parks in California have been closed since the early days of the pandemic in March.

Anaheim’s tourist-based economy has been particularly hard hit. A number of small businesses and independent hotels have remained closed waiting for the theme parks to reopen. The Walt Disney Co.’s Parks, Experiences and Products division, which includes Disneyland, recently announced 28,000 layoffs.

Orange County’s health officials this week are asking the state to let Disneyland and Knott’s reopen once the county shows enough improvement to move to the less-restrictive tier.

So far, the state has not issued any guidelines spelling out when theme parks might be allowed to reopen.

Newsom said Wednesday he’s not in any rush.

“When there’s disagreements in terms of opening a major theme park, we’re going to let science and data make that determination,” the governor said.

“I understand the dialectic, the friction, the frustration that many business leaders have that they want to move forward sectorally, to reopen, but we are we’re going to be led by a health-first framework. And we’re going to be stubborn about it.”

“And that’s our commitment. That’s our resolve. And while we feel there’s no hurry putting out guidelines, we’re continuing to work with the industry, amusement parks.”

Disney responded to the governor’s statements:

“We absolutely reject the suggestion that reopening the Disneyland Resort is incompatible with a ‘health-first’ approach,” said Dr. Pamela Hymel, chief medical officer for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.

“The fact is, that since March we have taken a robust science-based approach to responsibly reopening our parks and resorts across the globe.”

She said the company has worked with epidemiologists and data scientists to develop health and safety protocols, while considering guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She noted that the company’s other theme parks in the United States and abroad have been allowed to open “on the strength of our proven ability to operate with responsible health and safety protocols.”

RELATED: Gov. Newsom delays releasing theme park reopening guidelines amid criticism from industry leaders

California has a four-tier system for allowing reopenings of different businesses and activities. While the tiers list conditions for the reopening of many types of businesses, such as nail salons, malls and bars, there are no guidelines for theme parks.

Orange County has been in the red tier for about five weeks. Red is the second-most restrictive, meaning COVID-19 cases have been substantial. It does not currently meet all the criteria for a move to the less-restrictive orange tier, but county officials remain hopeful of steady improvement.

They hope to have a theme-park plan in place from the state for when that time comes.

RELATED: How the state tier system works and where your county stands

Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said this week he and other county officials have been working closely with Disneyland on reopening plans and have engaged in conversations with the California Department of Public Health.

“In conversations with CDPH and health officers from counties that have theme parks, I have advocated for theme parks to be safely reopened in Tier 3 – the orange tier,” Chau said.

“I believe in looking at the effect of COVID-19 not only on physical health but also on emotional health and economic/financial health of the entire community/population, i.e. supporting work/employments for our citizens – of course with safety in mind.”

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, the president of the California State Association of Counties, said the organization is lobbying the state to let theme parks reopen when a county is in the orange tier, rather than being grouped with live concerts and sporting events in the yellow tier.

Bartlett said the yellow tier would reflect when a county has “eradicated COVID,” so it would be unfair to restrict theme parks to waiting for that status before reopening.

“Disneylands have opened across the world and have not seen any spikes in COVID,” Bartlett said. “And they have significant health and safety protocols… We are collectively pushing, pushing, pushing to have that done sooner rather than later.”

The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of this station.

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