On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom reaffirmed his commitment to keeping theme parks closed while their counties are in higher reopening tiers, citing COVID-19 risks and concerns over the rising number of virus “cases” nationwide in recent weeks.
Theme parks have been closed in California since March. After an abortive reopening attempt in July due to a resurgence of COVID-19 in California during the summer, the California Attractions and Parks Association (CAPA), which represents most theme parks in California, began pleading with the Governor to allow theme parks to reopen. Since then, the Governor and theme parks have been at odds over reopening. Newsom has been touting COVID-19 spread concerns while the theme parks have pointed to financial woes, including a $2 billion loss at Disneyland alone since March. Disneyland, often singled out as the theme park needing to reopen the most, had to lay off more than 10,000 in September due to not being able to reopen in time and falling financial figures.
Finally, last week, definitive reopening guidelines were released by the California Department of Health and Human Services (CHHS). While there are many details, the guidelines say that, in general, smaller parks can begin reopening when the county they are in has entered the orange reopening tier, the second lowest in the state. Larger parks can only reopen once their county has reached the yellow level. In all cases, capacity would be reduced to 25% due to COVID-19 concerns.
However, much like earlier this month, Newsom said on Tuesday that theme parks would remain closed despite clear-cut guidelines now in place.
“Self-evidently, we should be concerned about opening up large theme park which, by definition, people mix from all possible walks of life and putting ourselves and others at risk of seeing transmission rates rise,” said Newsom on Tuesday, explaining his “health first” approach again.
When asked specifically about Disneyland, Newsom explained that the theme park was not the only one in California and, once again, health concerns were coming first in decisions.
“You bring up one theme park. California has dozens and dozens of theme parks,” added Newsom. “You bring up one particular operator of a theme park that does things very very differently than other operators. You have theme parks that are really cities, that operate hotels and restaurant facilities, not just organize around carousels and other amenities. You see others that are out on beaches and boardwalks that are very very different.”
“We, as a state, are going to be driven by data and science, and we are going to be driven by public health first. When you see double digit increases in the vast number of states, when you see hospitalization rates increase all across this country, when you see the weather start to turn, wand more and more people coming back inside and mixing.”
“Respectfully, deep respect, because I understand as someone with 4 young kids the reverential identity they have with one particular brand that you are identifying, and their desire to be entertained. The bottom line is we are seeing an increase in the transmission traded of COVID-19 in a vast majority of states in this nation. That should be alarming to all Americans. We are seeing an increase in case rates all over the world.”
Theme parks, employees upset with Newsom’s closure reiteration on Thursday
These parks and theme park employees were not happy with the Governor’s new refusal to open message on Tuesday, with many now growing concerned for their futures.
“Now he’s refusing to listen to guidelines,” said Dani Hooper, a laid-off Disney cast member who is helping other cast members with support. “It feels like we’re on a picket line when there is nothing really to fight management over. He’s condemning thousands to go on unemployment just because he doesn’t trust the company with its own park.”
“He’s supposed to be a compassionate Governor. A lot of Disney employees even voted for him because he seemed like he gave a damn. And we do get why he’s doing what he’s doing because of the disease, but the CHHS basically just found a way to make it all work. You know, be compassionate to those who need these jobs but also being careful about COVID. But he basically spat on that.”
“This is why we’ve been so pissed. It’s because a lot of us feel betrayed by him because we voted him in to improve our lives.”
CAPA, who reiterated in a tweet that they were going to take every health precaution possible when reopening on Monday, also issued a statement Wednesday:
“We continue to ask the administration to share any data or science related to theme parks that they are using to inform their decision to keep the major theme parks closed indefinitely while allowing similar venues to reopen,” noted CAPA in their statement in response to Newsom. “Parks have been opened throughout the country and world for months and we have seen no data indicating that COVID outbreaks are being traced back to theme parks. If they can reopen safely in other states and countries, then why not in California?”
More challenges to the stalemate between the governor and theme parks over reopening are expected in the coming weeks, including possible legal action that has been hinted at by many of the theme parks.