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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