What to Expect from California's Theme Park Reopening Rules

October 19, 2020, 4:58 PM · So what should theme park fans expect when California's top state health official talks tomorrow about their reopening?

California Governor Gavin Newsom said today in his online press conference that the state’s Secretary for Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, tomorrow would provide an update on reopening guidance for theme parks in the state.

"Tomorrow, Dr. Ghaly will update you on some of those industries and guidelines including sports and some of these theme parks. We're going to break up the theme parks — it's not just one or two brands; it's many different parts that are part of the theme park industry, but Dr. Ghaly will be updating you tomorrow on those guidelines," Gov. Newsom said.

"Again, I hope one recognizes our stubbornness on a health-first, data-driven decision-making process is done with our eyes wide open on what's happening now around the world — not just what's happening across the United States. Not yet here in the state of California, but that's only because we are being vigilant and have to maintain that vigilance to avoid any further increase in transmission."

As the governor indicated, the reopening guidelines will not include one set of rules for all theme parks in the state. In a press conference last week, Gov. Newsom emphasized the difference between smaller parks, specifically such as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and major players such as Disneyland.

In addition, California's entire approach to businesses reopening during this pandemic has been based on county-by-county rules. The state divides its 58 counties into four tiers based upon their adjusted Covid-19 case rates as well as testing positivity rates. The state's biggest county, Los Angeles — home to Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain — remains in the most restrictive, "purple" tier. The home of Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, Orange County, is the next most-restrictive "red" tier. San Diego County — home of SeaWorld and Legoland California — is also in the red tier.

The less restrictive the tier, the more operations that businesses can resume within that county. For example, movie theaters and indoor restaurants are closed completely in the purple tier, but may open at 25 percent capacity in red-tier counties.

So expect to see California's theme park reopening guidelines to be based upon both the park's location as well as its size and scope of operations. Smaller, more outdoor-oriented parks in lower tier counties will be able to reopen before larger parks in more restrictive counties. California's original draft reopening guidelines prohibited parks from reopening until their county reached the least restrictive, yellow tier. Expect to see some parks allowed to resume operations in higher tiers under tomorrow's rules, but don't be surprised if parks are kept closed entirely in counties in the purple tier and possibly the red tier, as well.

Once a county moves down a tier in California's system, it must remain in that tier for at least three weeks before it is allowed to move down to the next tier below that. Currently, neither Los Angeles nor Orange counties meet the state's criteria to move down a tier. And San Diego's data is moving close toward a potential return to the purple tier. So even with reopening guidelines issued tomorrow, it might be some time before the state's biggest theme parks are cleared to reopen, assuming that their counties must get into the orange tier first, as a coalition of unions representing Disneyland's cast members recommended today.

But whenever a park is cleared to return, it is likely that it will do so as the first step in a phased reopening, with the expansion of operations tied to its county's tier status. California has sent a task force to examine theme park operations in Florida, so expect the state to adopt what it sees as best practices from other park's reopenings around the world — practices that likely will include advance reservations, limited capacities at the front gate and for locations within the park, and restrictions on indoor dining and theaters that meet or exceed those for such businesses outside theme parks. Larger parks also might be limited in accepting guests who live within a certain distance of the park, as we have seen in Japan.

Stay tuned, and we will have the complete guidelines for you here on Theme Park Insider, once they are announced tomorrow at noon.

Update: And here they are.

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Replies (9)

October 19, 2020 at 6:04 PM

Finally. I’m not a California resident myself, but I feel for California’s businesses - including theme parks - that have been damaged and possibly ruined by an incompetent governor’s unwillingness to give them a coherent reopening plan. This guy has decided seemingly at random to keep some things closed while allowing others to open. He’s a destructive disgrace

October 20, 2020 at 8:27 AM

The irony is that it will be much harder to distance at Santa Cruz than at Disneyland. I love the Boardwalk, my most recent coaster ride was there in February, but there is no space. Few rides even have much of a queue, and those will spill into the walkways quickly.

October 20, 2020 at 10:34 AM

"California's business that have been damaged and possibly ruined by an incompetent governor’s unwillingness to give them a coherent reopening plan."

Absurd. California's businesses, like all American businesses, have been damaged by a complete lack of federal response to the virus. Did you see that China's movie box office was bigger than the United States' last week? You know why? Because the Chinese government squashed the curve and their society has been able to reopen, just like in New Zealand, Germany, and all the other countries ruled by governments that respect science and have common sense.

Gavin Newsome and the California state government should be beyond proud for getting our infection rate low and KEEPING it low. I know I am beyond proud to call them my leaders for doing such a good job to save so many lives. Go take a look at the national map. All the idiot states who refused to quarantine properly are on fire with the virus. But California is low and staying low thanks to Gavin and co. Sorry if that means you had to delay your vacation, but gosh, tens of thousands are still alive!

Here's hoping Newsome stays the course and keeps making the right decisions to keep our virus under control. All that matters is getting schools open again so people can go back to work--Disneyland and people's precious vacations can wait.

October 20, 2020 at 1:12 PM

I really don't care about the dead or those that will die. I care about the living and those that will continue to live after this is gone or subdued. They have a very scary future ahead.

October 20, 2020 at 1:42 PM

@thecolonel you need to keep in mind that it’s not just disneyland. All kinds of businesses have been wrecked because this idiot took an extreme stance in shutting everything down regardless of its ability to operate safely. Do you want to see your economy collapse because all the businesses are closed, Disneyland can’t contribute to the tourism industry by investing in new attractions, and community mainstay businesses are gone? Life is important, but newsom did a dreadful job of creating a balance between loss of life and loss of economy

October 20, 2020 at 2:16 PM

>> I really don't care about the dead or those that will die. I care about the living and those that will continue to live after this is gone or subdued. They have a very scary future ahead.

Some of them will.

But better to have a future than another corpse.

There is no false choice between economy and deaths. If deaths are piling up, the economy will suffer. Sometimes, medicine is bitter.

This too will pass. Death, not so much.

October 20, 2020 at 2:22 PM

StormRunner, are you a Russian troll? Your statements are too absurd to believe you're posting from within America.

"All kinds of businesses have been wrecked because this idiot took an extreme stance in shutting everything down regardless of its ability to operate safely."

You're calling the governor of a state with among the lowest infection rates (despite having one of the largest urban areas) an "idiot"? Because smart governors kill more people?

"Do you want to see your economy collapse because all the businesses are closed"

No, I want to see my friends and family alive.

"Life is important, but newsom did a dreadful job of creating a balance between loss of life and loss of economy."

In fact he did an unbelievably good job at saving potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of lives despite the complete lack of a federal response. Indeed, the murderous fools in charge of the federal government made his job far more difficult, yet through his steely leadership California has among the lowest rates of any state in the country.

American lives might not matter to you, comrade, but they do to us.

October 20, 2020 at 6:19 PM

@thecolonel-

Can you agree though that some of Newsoms policy's have been a bit half baked and could have taken more time to look over? Now I don't think StormRunner is a Russian lol. Although a bit extreme, I do feel like he is sharing a reoccurring thought that some people on this site have been stating.

October 21, 2020 at 11:36 PM

@Chad H: My thoughts are slightly less aggressive than what I posted. I was just hoping to try and make thecolonel's head explode.

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