Disney's theme park division took its campaign to reopen the Disneyland Resort to the press today, with an online press briefing on "Our Approach to Operating during a Pandemic" that ended with a direct appeal to California state officials.
Disney Parks, Experiences & Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro closed the presentation with Disney's pitch.
"To our California government officials, particularly at the state level, I encourage you to treat theme parks like you would other sectors. Help us reopen. We need guidelines that are fair and equitable, so that we can better understand our future and chart a path towards reopening. The longer we wait, the more devastating the impact will be to Orange County and the Anaheim communities and the tens of thousands of people who rely on us for employment. With the right guidelines and our years of operations experience, I am confident that we can restart and get people back to work. As you can see from this discussion today, we're ready. And more importantly, it's time."
Disneyland and other theme parks around the state are awaiting official guidance from the state of California that would establish the rules under which they can operate during this pandemic. The state has issued guidance for most other major sectors of the economy, including restaurants, retail and other attractions, including family entertainment centers.
Under the state's new four-tier pandemic response system, Disneyland's home of Orange County has moved out of the most restrictive tier, which would allow limited indoor dining and theater attendance. The state's guidance has allowed other theme parks to resume limited operations, such as the food festivals at Knott's Berry Farm and the outdoor operations at SeaWorld San Diego, which is operating under guidance permitting the opening of zoos and aquariums.
Before D’Amaro spoke, managers from the Walt Disney World and Disneyland resorts detailed Disney's new health and safety operations procedures. These procedures should be familiar to our frequent readers here Theme Park Insider: mandatory masks usage, reduced capacities to foster safe physical distancing, the use if plastic and glass barriers, contactless payments, and frequent sanitation of surface and hand cleaning throughout the resort.
But Disney California Adventure Park & Downtown Disney District Vice President Patrick Finnegan offered one new bit of information: "We're pleased to announce today that we are in the process of finalizing a plan that would allow our cast members to have access to [Covid-19] testing in their own communities. We'll have more information to share with our cast members soon."
Given that aggressive testing is a cornerstone of California's pandemic response, Disney signaling that it is willing to support additional testing in multiple communities in Southern California could help the company boost its case that it is willing to work as a partner with state and local officials. Earlier in the presentation, Walt Disney World Hotels & Resorts Vice President Elizabeth Mullins made the case for Disney's support of contact tracing — another element of California's pandemic response plan.
"Our team and safety team proactively developed a very thorough process for supporting contact tracing. This includes notifying any close work contacts and placing them on leave until they're medically ready and cleared to return to work. Our processes are thorough and guided by Disney's team of health and safety professionals, as well as other experts, including physicians and epidemiologists. Additionally, in order to make testing convenient and accessible for our cast members we've worked with local health authorities in Florida to allow them to set up testing facilities on our property that are open for both cast and the public."
As I mentioned on Twitter following the presentation, Disney has every right to make its case. And state officials have every right - and even a responsibility - to make their decision based on the criteria they see as important, no matter what Disney says.
After all, theme park managers aren't exactly at the top of the list of people to whom state officials ought to be listening when deciding how to respond to this public health emergency.
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