All of Southern California's major theme park resorts soon will be open for food fairs or other special events. But could local theme parks be allowed to open everything - including their rides and shows - as early as next month? If current trends continue in the state of California, that might be possible.
Let's look at the Covid-19 infection numbers in California, which have been falling dramatically over the past month. The state is now reporting a 14-day rolling average of 12.28 cases new cases per day per 100,000 population, down from an average of 88.11 new cases per day per 100,000 residents just six weeks ago.
Disneyland's Orange County now stands on the brink of entering the Red Tier 2, with an adjusted case rate of 7.6 new cases per day per 100,000 residents. Los Angeles County - home to Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain - is actually doing a touch better, with an adjusted case rate of 7.2. San Diego County - home to Legoland and SeaWorld - lags the LA area with an adjusted case rate of 10.8.
A county needs to get below an adjusted case rate of 7.0 to enter the Red tier, then below 4.0 to get to Orange and then below 1.0 to get to the least restrictive Yellow tier, where major theme parks may open at 25 percent capacity under the state's current rules. Test positivity rates must also get below 2.0 percent, with current rates ranging from 3.5 percent in Los Angeles County to 4.2 percent in San Diego County.
Under current rules, a county must spend two weeks at a tier level before it can drop down to a less-restrictive tier. With Los Angeles and Orange Counties on the brink of moving into the Red tier - potentially within the week - they could move down to Orange in another two weeks and then into Yellow two weeks after that, should the current trend continue. (That's a huge "if," of course.) Those moves would allow theme parks such as Disneyland to open as early as April.
But California might be about to move its goal posts once again. Theme parks have been fighting to get reassigned to the Orange tier, but Governor Newsom's office today issued a press release that said California would shift the Tier requirements once counties had issued more vaccines to lower-income communities. That would allow counties to move to less restrictive tiers at higher adjusted case rates than under the current system. In short, what's now Orange could become the new Yellow.
Governor Newsom is expected to detail changes to the state's pandemic response in his State of the State address next Tuesday at 6pm.
By reopening for food festivals and special events, California theme parks have reduced the amount of time they would need to ramp up for an official reopening, since they already have recalled many food and beverage, merchandise, custodial, and park operations support teams. Attractions operations and entertainment would be the next teams to return, once it looks like approval to reopen is imminent.
But not all attractions and shows would be expected to reopen even if California gives the okay. With capacity restrictions in place, parks may choose to leave some smaller attractions and certain theater shows closed, as they have in Florida. And theme parks might choose to delay reopening for a bit after state approval is given, in order to introduce new ticketing plans and reservation systems to the public while recalled or newly hired attractions crews test and train. With many California theme parks having sold special event tickets through April, May might be the earliest that those parks choose to return, even under a best-case scenario.
Yet all this momentum can evaporate if we see another resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the state. California has its own variant of the disease, but others from around the world are reaching the state. If people ignore mask and other public safety orders, we could see the next wave of the disease consume the state as the last wave did around the holidays. California - like all other states - is not yet anywhere near vaccinating enough of its residents to prevent another Covid wave, which the head of the CDC warned about this week.
Last month, I pointed Theme Park Insider readers to follow the data on daily vaccine administration in the United States for the best clue as to when theme parks might be able to resume safely their full operations, with few or no capacity restrictions. That number is up over two million now. With the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine coming into the mix this month, President Biden has said that the United States will have obtained enough vaccines for all adults by the end of May. Add another month or so to get those shots distributed, plus a second month for second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and we could get all willing adults in the US fully vaccinated by August.
Hello, Halloween Horror Nights and Disney Halloween parties!
That word "willing" could still trip us up, however. If people refuse vaccinations, our progress toward normal theme park operations could stall. As vaccines become available to all adults, states and the federal government will need to launch even more aggressive public education campaigns to encourage vaccination. With their deep collections of popular entertainment franchises, Disney and Universal could help their theme parks by supporting these campaigns.
It's looking good for a safe return of theme parks in California at the moment. But the tragedy of the past 12 months should have taught us all by now that we can take nothing for granted. While some might see the end of this pandemic on the horizon, we remain far from reaching it. Much more work remains to be done... by everyone.
* * *
We wanted you to read this article before we make our newsletter pitch, unlike so many other websites. If you appreciate that — and our approach to covering theme park news — please sign up for our free, twice-a-week email newsletter. Thank you.
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.