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Disneyland To Remain Closed Despite Recommendations From County Health Officials

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signaled that amusement parks in the state will continue to remain closed until further notice, despite recommendations to reopen by the Orange County Healthcare Agency, at a press conference on Oct. 7. 

Disneyland closed its gates on March 14 due to the COVID-19 crisis. Though originally intended to be closed for a month, the amusement park’s reopening has yet to be approved by state officials. 

Newsom stated that he is in “no hurry” to reopen any of the amusement parks within California. 

“We don’t anticipate in the immediate term any of these larger parks opening until we see more stability in terms of data,” he said.

Calls to reopen the parks have been made by many government officials throughout Orange County.

State Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Calif.) wrote to Newsom arguing that the continued closure of amusement parks contradicts the guidelines for the reopening of other businesses. 

“Many indoor facilities are already operating safely at reduced capacities, with face covering and physical distancing requirements, and with heightened hygiene practices. Logic would suggest that since theme parks are controlled venues operating predominantly outdoors, that they too could reopen with similar health and safety protocols,” Quirk-Silva said in her letter.

Many of Disney’s representatives have urged Newsom to allow Disneyland the same opportunity, arguing that they have not received the same amount of guidance or leeway as other businesses. As of Oct. 19, state amusement parks have not been given an estimated timeline for reopening.

Newsom stated that he plans on the reopening being “led by a health-first framework.” 

In August, California instituted a multi-level system, called the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” aimed at reopening the state. The blueprint system ranks each county within the state in respect to their COVID-19 cases. The system allows for citizens to easily check what tier their county is in and see what businesses are allowed to reopen. 

All counties within California began in the widespread purple tier. This tier is considered to be the most limiting tier with “many non-essential indoor business operations” being closed. Counties are placed in this tier if they have more than seven new daily cases for every 100,000 people. As the rate of new daily cases decrease, counties are able to move past the widespread tier to either the substantial red tier, moderate orange tier or minimal yellow tier. 

Orange County was moved into a substantial tier mid-September, which allowed many businesses to reopen with modifications. County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau has recommended that Disneyland be reopened. 

At a public meeting on Oct. 6,  Chau stated that he and his staff  “have worked very closely with Disneyland. We have also visited Disneyland to walk through and make recommendations.” In reference to the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” Chau stated that “it is now public knowledge that I have recommended to the state that the theme park reopen in the Orange Tier.”

Chau and his team at the Orange County Healthcare Agency have created tentative guidelines and regulations for the future reopening of Disney. According to Chau, the park plans on limiting the number of visitors allowed at the park. These plans have since been executed at Downtown Disney. 

In an interview with KTLA, Anaheim City Communications Officer Mike Lyster stated that Disneyland guests will “see much more plastic shielding in place, wherever folks might come into contact with each other in fairly close proximity. There are floor markings everywhere that will keep my party away from another party, basically keeping that six feet of distance between them.”

Among the political and economic push to reopen the amusement park, Disneyland unions have continued to stand by the park’s closure. According to The Daily Beast, employees have many concerns about the reopening of the park, particularly citing concerns regarding a current lack of necessary precautions established in the park to protect their employees. 

A Disneyland employee told The Daily Beast in an interview that “11 members of the 12-person Horticulture Irrigation Team did not appear for work for a week, presumably due to COVID-19 results. Another worker showed up to work five days after testing positive, without a proper two-week quarantine.” 

According to Anaheim’s Employment Profile Data, the Disneyland Resort provides jobs to 21,000 residents in Anaheim alone and to 78,000 residents throughout Southern California. In previous years, Disneyland has reported an annual profit of $5.7 billion for Southern California and generated over $10 billion in economic revenue for the county. 

The city of Anaheim has since discovered a $100 million deficit due to the prolonged closure of Disneyland. The shutdown has also caused the corporation to hit a devastating $5 billion dollar loss. As a result, Disney was forced to lay off 28,000 employees between their California and Florida park locations. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed Disney World to reopen in Orlando, Florida this past July. Similar to the economic benefits that Disneyland brings to California, Disney World provides 77,000 Orlando residents with jobs and garnered an annual sales-tax revenue of $700 million in previous years. 

According to Johns Hopkins University, Florida has a daily average of 11.7% of positive COVID infection rates whereas California has 2.6%.

The corporation expects to lay off another 6,000 employees across their U.S. parks if the shutdown is extended. With the reopening timeline pending, many amusement parks are faced with the serious question of whether they can remain inoperable and for how much longer.

Amy Duong is a City News Intern for the 2020 fall quarter. She can be reached at amynd@uci.edu.