California's Theme Parks Are a Step Closer to Reopening

May 26, 2020, 3:28 PM · California's theme parks will be able to reopen in the next stage of the state's reopening plans rather than having to wait until the final stage, a state spokesperson confirmed today.

California is now officially in stage two of its four-stage reopening plan, though California Governor Gavin Newsom today gave the majority of the state's counties the go-ahead to proceed into the first phases of stage three. In stage two, in-person dining and retail can begin to reopen while following new social distancing and hygiene protocols. Today's announcement gives selected counties the ability to reopen barbershops and beauty salons, though only if everyone wears masks.

"Theme parks are slated to open in Stage 3 if the rate of spread of COVID-19 and hospitalizations remain stable," California Health and Human Services Agency spokesperson Kate Folmar told my Orange County Register colleague Brady MacDonald in an email today.

It had been unclear whether theme parks would be classified with movie theaters and indoor museums as a stage three activity or with concerts and in-person sporting events in stage four. Putting theme parks in stage three should allow parks to open months earlier than they would have been had they been included in the final, fourth stage of the state's reopening plans.

Though California has a four-stage plan for reopening, each stage includes several phases and counties are allowed to move through the reopening process at various speeds. The state's most populated counties, including Los Angeles County, remain in the first phases of stage two, so in-person dining and hair salons will remain closed there for the time being. But Orange and San Diego counties got the state's okay last week to move deeper into stage two, allowing in-person dining to resume. Today's announcement should clear the way for hair salons to begin reopening in those counties, as well.

Los Angeles County is home to Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain, while Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm are in Orange County and Legoland California and SeaWorld San Diego are in San Diego County. So far, no major theme parks in California have announced that they have submitted plans for reopening to local or state officials.

Governor Newsom also said today that the state is talking with Los Angeles County about the possibility of some areas of the county moving through the reopening process before others, but that's not yet been decided. As it stands now, though, if Orange and San Diego counties were to remain ahead of Los Angeles County in the reopening process, that could clear SeaWorld, Legoland, Knott's, and Disney to return before Universal and Six Flags, though it would be up to each park to decide when it wishes to apply to reopen.

Here's the current reopening schedule for other theme parks across the country:

Walt Disney World tomorrow will present to Orange County, Florida officials its proposal for a phased reopening of its theme parks. SeaWorld Orlando also is slated to present.

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For tickets to theme parks as they reopen across the country, please visit our travel partner's discount theme park tickets page.

Replies (6)

May 26, 2020 at 4:19 PM

It's funny how all 6 of Disney's U.S theme parks are in Orange County.

I guess New York will have to settle for Orange County Choppers as their claim to fame.

May 27, 2020 at 12:19 AM

Calling it now...Knott's Berry Farm will be the first theme park in Southern California to reopen, and every park in the region will be open by the end of July. Personally, I'm banking on an early July target, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was a couple weeks earlier or later. Now that parks are opening in other places in the country, if there aren't significant increases in hospitalizations over the next two to three weeks, it's going to be really compelling evidence that they're not the health hazard some make them out to be.

May 27, 2020 at 4:17 PM

AJ, a rate of hospitalization change over 2-3 weeks means very little. A bad rate of transmission for COVID is 3, ie for every person who is infected, that transmit it to 3 others during the entirety of their illness. For example, if 100 people go into a park maybe they transmit it to 100 others, who then take the infection all over the state or country. These people won't show signs of infection for offer a week, and maybe hospitalised 2 weeks later. It's the 3 people each of them infect who turn up to hospital 3-4 weeks later who then show a small upturn in numbers, but by them they've already transmitted it to 3 others (900 new cases now).

The delay between a change in behavior and is subsequent effect on reported numbers is closer to a month. New York was closing down mid March, but didn't see a reduction in new cases until about 8-10 April due to this lag. Over a 2 week period, numbers will continue along whatever trajectory they were before, perhaps offering a false sense of security.

May 27, 2020 at 4:29 PM

Grant--yet. Georgia reopened fully first. yet the last few days they have had significantly lower death numbers than most of the other states of a similar size. the current problem states seem to be ones who had longer lockdowns with all democrat gov's. Illinois, Penn, virginia, Minnesota and north carolina. Not because they are all demo's (though it prob contributes) but also because there seems to be a certain amount of randomness to the transmission. Although being apart must help, stuff still happens sometimes more in the harsher social distancing states. 1 also has to always remember to consider suicides, depression, drug deaths, long term depression and mental illness due to lockdown. And other bad unintentional causes.

May 27, 2020 at 11:16 PM

Grant, I get your point, but let's try running the math with some realistic numbers...

As of today, it is estimated that there are around 100,000 active COVID infections in the US, and if we assume around 40% are asymptomatic, then 0.013% of those in this country are asymptomatic carriers. Since the rumored day one capacity of Magic Kingdom is 15,000, we'll use that as park capacity. If 100 people at the park had COVID, that would mean 0.67% of attendees that day have it, which is a ridiculous percentage. A more realistic estimate, assuming that all of those showing symptoms are caught by the screening procedures and all asymptomatic patrons slip through, is that there will be about two people in the park on any given day carrying it. Now, assuming each of them infects someone else (unlikely even without the restrictions in place, even more unlikely with them, but we'll assume it happens), four people leave the park with COVID. They infect three people each, which makes eight infections (two who caught it at the park, six from them) that wouldn't have happened without the park, and then if each of those three infect three more, we've got a grand total of 26 infections. Now, approximately 25% of those infected require hospital care (treating all infected as equal), so theoretically one day at the park should add six new hospital cases. That is a tiny amount compared to overall infection rates, and should be well within the ability of a stable medical system to handle.

Now, let's assume that this worst case scenario continues indefinitely. That means each week, hospitals would need to deal with 42 additional patients due to said park being open. Using Florida as an example, they've got around 2,000 hospitalized due to COVID in a medical system able to handle 20,000. Even if all nine major parks added 42 patients per week each, that would be less than a 20% increase and still less than 15% of capacity, even not accounting for those leaving the hospital. California's numbers are a little different, but the ratios are similar and the point still stands.

No matter what we do, cases are going to rise. We need to be careful to look at them in context and ask if it's really an issue. Personally, I'd consider a spike significant enough to be worthy of concern one that would threaten to overwhelm healthcare systems if it were sustained for a month. Anything less than that, and we probably need to let things play out.

May 28, 2020 at 1:12 AM

Since gov's have pretty much done away with due process and the constitution with many of the executive orders anyway. We could simply not allow anyone who's drivers license is over 65 yrs entry. That would reduce the amount of hospitalized in the example above to a really really small number.

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