'No Promise of a Specific Date' on California Theme Parks' Return

October 6, 2020, 2:45 PM · Here is the latest response from California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly today on when the state will issue reopening guidance for theme parks:

"Theme parks continues to be a high priority for the administration and recognizing their role both as part of California life but also employment employment opportunities for thousands of Californians. As we do with every sector, we don't take that lightly — we are working closely with a number of the direct operators of theme parks and also the overall agency or organization representing theme parks, as well as our labor partners that represent the workers to ensure that we move forward together [with] low risk and in the safest way possible.

"I am not sure when those conversations wrap up. I will tell you that they will wrap up as soon as we come to really hear the industry and understand some of the concerns. We continue to look at the data and information that we have. So, no, no promise of a specific date, but I will say as soon as possible.

"Some of the important issues that we are looking at are obviously not just how the operations in the theme park go. I think there are so many important, thoughtful people who are working in many of our sectors across California who have been thinking about this with a great deal of passion and energy, not just so that they can reopen but also so that they can make sure that staff and patrons alike are in the safest position that they can be. But broader than that — really looking at the impact that the sector of theme parks has on broader communities — on the surrounding neighborhoods and the workplaces and the industry around, and how this isn't just about one piece, it's about the entire community and having dialogue with not just those operators, but others who both have a stake in what happens with this guidance, but also have a responsibility to reduce the risk for so many people from California who might visit a theme park town in the future."

The TL;DR? It's not just about the safety inside the parks for the state. It's about what happens when theme parks start attracting thousands of people to travel to Anaheim, Santa Clarita, Carlsbad and other communities where theme parks are located.

That suggests that the state won't be giving up its reported demand that parks not allow visitors from beyond a specific distance. The state has been handing reopening on a county by county basis, but widespread travel of Californians between counties would undercut that approach.

Rather having to than restrict businesses across all counties based on the worst conditions in the state, the state clearly would prefer that California keep closer to home and not travel across and out of the state, potentially spreading the reach of the virus.

Given that, are parks better off remaining closed until they can welcome people from beyond their home communities, or should they work with the state to resume operations for a limited audience? That seems to be a determinative question.

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Replies (18)

October 6, 2020 at 2:57 PM

So what, people who visit from outside of Anaheim tend to wander into the homes in local neighborhoods?

October 6, 2020 at 3:34 PM

That’s pretty much the definition of Airbnb, isn’t it?

October 6, 2020 at 4:29 PM

Maybe then the key is to create stricter guidelines for Airbnb? Maybe suspend Airbnb use for the time being, or require a 24 hour cooling off period between guests to allow the airborne virus to die off. After all, no one lives in an air bnb generally. So you're not infecting the locals, you're just putting the next guests at risk if you're coughing up a storm and they check in right after you check out.

October 6, 2020 at 4:58 PM

I read this statement twice, and I have to say it's full of more BS than any others have been recently. If California is concerned about travel from out of state (whether recreational travel here or residents vacationing elsewhere), they should put a quarantine restriction in place on those traveling in for non-essential travel. If California is concerned about travel between counties, all tourism related businesses should be kept closed. If they're not willing to do either of those things, theme parks need to be permitted to open. The data from elsewhere is saying that theme parks are not a significant risk when operated under established safety protocols, and at this point California is one of only three states that hosts a major theme park yet does not allow it to operate fully (instead, we've got Taste of Knott's and similar, which I'd argue is actually higher risk than normal operation).

I will also say this...I have made two trips out of state since July to visit businesses and participate in activities that were not allowed to happen in California. I have a third coming up next week, and based on the current outlook will be planning a fourth for the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. All of those have been to destinations that are considered more severe for COVID than California is. If California had opened up in July as planned, however, those four trips would have been one or maybe two. Judging by what I hear of much of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah being dominated by California license plates, I doubt I'm the only one doing this.

October 6, 2020 at 5:22 PM

"I doubt I'm the only one doing this."

Are you bragging about it? You're purposefully travelling out of state to places with more severe COVID outbreaks, for purely recreational purposes? And thus risking infecting everyone here because you can't restrain your desire to attend theme parks?

This is why America is still knee-deep in the first wave of the pandemic.

October 6, 2020 at 5:48 PM

Reminder to be chill in the comments.

I think that analyzing Ghaly's statement is useful to see where the state is coming from with theme parks. Oh, heck yes, there's obfuscation galore here. I've been suspecting that California leaders just don't want to reopen parks so they've been stalling, and when the parks called them out, they prepared guidelines so restrictive that the parks begged the state not to issue them. Statements such as this one do not dissuade me from that point of view.

But the issue of preventing people from different areas from congregating is legit. Maybe Disney can keep things safe inside the parks. But what about in the parking lots and garages before the health screening? Or at restaurants, gas stations and hotels along the way between people's homes and the parks?

Ghaly was asked an excellent question today that challenged why states, including California, are continuing to allow more indoor activities while restricting outdoor ones when emerging research suggests that transmission skews heavily indoors. Ghaly basically said, yeah, we know. But we're not planning to change any of our guidance.

California's per capita track record relative to most other states should buy its leaders a lot of extra credibility. But it seems clear to me that state officials' attempts to stay a step of ahead of potential political blowback are getting in the way of providing straight answers to Californians who want more detail.

October 6, 2020 at 6:53 PM

Thecolonel,

If you have anger at the situation, I suggest you direct it toward those responsible for creating it, as our current predicament is far more due to the actions (or lack thereof) of policymakers than due to individuals. If you feel not enough is being done, send a letter to your senator and/or representative voicing your opinion on current policy. Please refrain from going after me or anyone else for living their life as they see fit, especially when they are not violating established guidelines or acting in a grossly negligent manner. I am all for taking reasonable precautions and have done so any time I am out and about, but I am not willing to suspend my life just because a plethora of dubious information has made a substantial minority of individuals paranoid of the outside world. There is a virus out there and it should be taken seriously, but the severity of it has been blown wildly out of proportion by leaders on both sides.

If you want a first hand account of my trip this summer, I suggest you read the trip report I published on this site in August, Coastering in the Time of Covid. Here, you can read about all the precautions parks are taking to protect patrons, as well as details about what the experience of traveling during a pandemic was like. In short, at no point during my journey did I feel unsafe, and I actually felt far safer at most of the places I visited than I do at any essential business back home in California. Additionally, despite the increased risk of Covid, people at those locations seemed far healthier on the whole as they were free to enjoy many aspects of life (in a reasonably safe manner) rather than enduring the stress of pseudo house arrest with no idea how long such would continue. Lastly, I will add that I know more people who contracted an infection in California (most frequently due to workplaces being loose with upholding guidelines) than I know who contracted it by vacationing elsewhere.

If you do not feel it is safe to go out yet, that is perfectly fine, and you are welcome to remain in the comfort of your own home for as long as you like. However, please respect that others may not feel as strongly that such is necessary, and respect their choices provided they are following all established legal requirements.

October 6, 2020 at 9:23 PM

This is a site I cannot stand. I like coming here to hear about the things we have in common. As the saying goes "There is more that brings us to together than separates us." I believe that. We can disagree about things in normal times. We hope for their return.

Letting a virus divide us ideologically, only hurts... it does not help.

I have watched 5 team members leave for better opportunities. The exhaustion of teaching new people and carrying on has brought me to the point of mental and physical exhaustion.

As AJ implies, people need to get out, if for nothing else to preserve sanity. I took a 9 day trip, through CA, OR, WA, ID, NV.

This is simple, you must be an outstanding operator AT ALL TIMES.

0 contact hotel checkin, prepay 4 easy exit
Bring your own cleaning materials
Bring a mini Hepa filter
Clean your room before you leave...YES
Bring PPE for multiple functions
Research and plan out where you dine and if >it's not safe, walk away
Keep washing your hands and if you touch anything and wash above your wrists
Crowd looks to big, walk away, do another activity.

The State, Government, Theme Parks, are not the problem, we need a new educational platform so we can coexist during trying times and keep each other safe.

October 6, 2020 at 11:34 PM

I agree with Robert, some obfuscating, dragging heels, etc but also erring on the side of caution as, remember, they were ready to reopen in June and then a new spike. And I do think the fact that a White House Rose Garden ceremony, an outdoor event followed by indoor one, resulted in half of our current administration infected is clearly a new factor in all this.

Again, the idea they want to lose billions of dollars in tourism and jobs is illogical, they just don't want to reopen, then new spikes forcing new closures all over again. I do think a balance is good but both sides seem quite uncompromising which muddles things up more.

October 6, 2020 at 11:43 PM

The concerns about people from out of state coming in and bringing covid are definitely legitimate. While I think DLR needs to be open I have no problem with a California residents only rule, at WDW right now most of the attendance is from the south and while everyone is wearing masks and social distancing at WDW that is definitely not the case all over Orlando. I was at I-Drive 360 last week and there were a lot of Georgia/Alabama/Mississippi/South Carolina plates and also a lot of people there not wearing masks so you know they aren't wearing masks at home. Also the place was packed.

The main difference is the entire economy of Florida revolves around tourism so they have had to be more lenient out of necessity, which is also why Anaheim is desperately pleading with the state to allow Disneyland to open while the state doesn't care as much about it.

October 7, 2020 at 4:19 AM

Whilst I’m Minded to be sympathetic towards the idea of allowing opening for locals only, I have to question the practicalities. It’s one thing for a state with natural barriers to close borders (eg Hawaii, Tasmania) as the number of entry points and opportunities is controlled. Is there enough resources to stick a patrol car on every back road that crosses the California border? Who patrols the spaces in between?

Or is enforcement done at the hotel? What’s to stop a fake address being given or a lack of ID? How are you going to sift between a tourist and other visitor? Given Air BnB’s thumb nosing to local regulations banning short term lets, who’s going to make them comply? What are you going to do if an interstate guest does showup?

Or is Enforcement only happening at the park? Are you going to mandate people bring proof of address? What happens for those who only get digital bills/statements/etc? What are you going to do with those who show up anyway? How are you going to protect against people acting fraudulently?

Not saying these problems can’t be solved ofc, but they need to be solved first.

October 7, 2020 at 9:50 AM

I'm calling B.S. on Dr. Ghaly. If the concern is the virus spreading into and out of individual communities, then why are hotels open? Why is AirBnB allowed to operate? Why are airports and train stations open? Why are other tourist attractions open like museums, parks, historical sites, zoos, restaurants, and beaches?

If California is SO worried about this aspect of the virus, their actions thus far have been the antithesis of what should be done to address these concerns. Until the state articulates and details the unique conditions present within theme parks that are not seen in other businesses that are being allowed to operate, this is nothing more than one giant hypocrisy aimed directly at the industry.

October 7, 2020 at 10:56 AM

R. Niles: "But what about in the parking lots and garages before the health screening?"

I Respond: Have parking lots at WDW or UOR or frankly in ANY business model empirically demonstrated themselves to be pandemic hot zones? Further, in parking lots people are generally moving and are not staying in close proximity to others for extended periods of time.

R. Niles: "Or at restaurants, gas stations and hotels along the way between people's homes and the parks?"

I Respond: So cast members have to sacrifice their careers because these other businesses can't get their acts together? Please.

October 7, 2020 at 10:57 AM

I think you’re being a bit much there TH. Nobody on either side likes this situation. However, if we are looking at measures we have to look at the whole implications. Even if those other areas “are doing It right” for the demand they have, new demand can change that picture. It is right to look at it in the whole, not just what happens in the park.

Yes, measures to control a pandemic are going to be less fair for some... but ultimately we have to remember those who a pandemic is least fair on. Some impacts of COVID can be fixed by money. Some can’t.

October 7, 2020 at 11:15 AM

@Chad H - But if the concern is that other businesses are not following the rules and represent a threat to public health, then why is the theme park industry being punished, while those other industries continue operating unabated?

If California is worried about people traveling around and in/out of the state to tourist destinations, why is there no quarantine order (like is present in many Northeast States and cities)? Why are there no intra or interstate travel guidelines or restrictions? Why are other tourist destinations within California being allowed to operate? For every reason Dr. Ghaly offers to keep theme parks closed, you can see the exact opposite happening somewhere else in the state allowing other industries to operate. Dr. Ghaly makes some valid points as to why theme parks should remain closed, but those same arguments could also apply to dozens of other businesses that are being allowed to operate. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

October 7, 2020 at 11:48 AM

This is my favorite line in everything the good doctor had to say. " I will tell you that they will wrap up as soon as we come to really hear the industry and understand some of the concerns. " Are people to take from this that during all of the discussions they have had to date that the state representatives have been more concerned about lunch then what the other side was saying. Personally at the present time it makes no difference to me as to when parks are allowed to open as travel between Canada and the U.S. is still restricted but I had to read that line a couple of times to make sure of what I had read.

October 7, 2020 at 12:26 PM

I found that same statement pretty telling too Vaughn. You can see the obvious disdain and disrespect of the industry right in those few words.

"I will tell you that they will wrap up as soon as we come to really hear the industry and understand some of the concerns. "

Talk about obfuscating. He might as well have said, "We'll be done with this issue when we darn well feel like it and when the industry is ready to hear and OBEY what WE say!"

October 7, 2020 at 2:54 PM

Chad H: "Yes, measures to control a pandemic are going to be less fair for some... "

Me: Sure if "some" means thousands of cast members, their families as well as the park vendors and contractors and their families as well.

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