On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that reopening guidelines for California theme parks would not come out anytime soon, directly contradicting what California Health and Human Services (CHHS) Secretary Mark Ghaly said Tuesday about reopening guidelines coming as soon as possible.
California theme parks closed since March
Theme parks have been closed across the state since mid-March due to COVID-19. The theme parks, led by the California Attractions and Parks Association (CAPA) trade organization, have asked for reopening guidelines since the summer. Last month, CAPA and every major theme park in the state, including Disneyland and Universal studios, begged the Governor for reopening guidelines, as the theme parks companies have been hemorrhaging money. Disney’s theme park division alone lost billions of dollars last quarter, with other theme park companies such as Six Flags and Cedar Fair also announcing huge losses. The companies also warned of impending mass layoffs if the state didn’t issue reopening guidelines soon.
When no reopening guidelines were given, companies began their mass layoffs. Disney laid-off 28,000 people in Anaheim and Florida, with other companies also saying that layoffs were now imminent.
The giant lay-off shook California officials, who soon worked with theme park companies for reopening guidelines. Reopening drafts were even made allowing for up to 25% capacity should the counties theme parks are in reach the lowest COVID-19 state reopening levels. A mix of Southern Californian Senators and Assembly members also wrote a letter to the Governor asking him for reopening guidelines. And on Tuesday, CHHS Secretary Ghaly announced that guidelines would be coming soon, easing the fears of many theme park companies about reopening by the end of the year.
“I’m not sure when those conversations will wrap up,” said Ghaly at a press conference on Tuesday. “I will tell you that they will wrap up as soon as we come to really hear the industry and understand some of the concerns. We continue to look at the data and information that we have. So, no promise of a specific date, but I will say as soon as possible.”
“We’re working closely with a number of direct operators of the parks and also the overall agency or organization representing theme parks as well as the labor partners that represent the workers and ensuring that we move forward together in a low risk and safest way possible.”
Newsom pushes back theme park reopenings, theme park guidelines
However, less than 24 hours later, Governor Newsom, fearful of a possible second wave of COVID-19 cases hitting the state, announced that theme park re-openings would not be happening soon and that this is no hurry to create reopening guidelines.
“We don’t anticipate in the immediate term any of these larger parks opening until we see more stability in terms of the data,” said Governor Newsom in a speech on Wednesday. “We feel there’s no hurry to put out guidelines, and we continue to work with the industry.”
“I understand the dialectic, the friction that many business leaders have that they want to move forward. But we’re going to be led by a health-first framework, and we’re going to be stubborn about it.”
“And that’s our commitment, that’s our resolve. And while we feel there’s no hurry putting out guidelines, we’re continuing to work with the industry, amusement parks.”
“And by the way, amusement parks aren’t just Disney,” added Newsom. “You’ve got all kinds of amusement parks, including smaller parks that are out there on the piers like down in Santa Cruz, and others that may be impacted. And so we’re trying to work through all of those things. It’s very complex — these are like small cities, small communities, small towns. But we don’t anticipate in the immediate term any of these larger theme parks opening until we see more stability in terms of the data.”
Newsom confirms Iger leaving state task force, park employees upset over Governor’s decision
The Governor also confirmed that Bob Iger, the Chairman of Disney, had left the state’s task force for economic recovery due to disagreements over park re-openings.
“I had a wonderful conversation with Bob, who’s been very active and participatory,” continued Newsom. “I’m incredibly grateful for his support, his insight, his counsel.”
“It didn’t come to me as a surprise at all. There’s disagreements in terms of opening a major theme park. We’re going to let science and data make that determination.”
The theme parks and their respective companies have yet to respond to Governor Newsom’s remarks, but many theme park employees told the Globe that they were not happy.
“I’m out of work now because Newsom didn’t want to reopen,” Dani Hooper, a laid-off Disney cast member, told the Globe. “Everyone from our concessions group is now out, and now we know we won’t be back until next year. And that’s us being hopeful.”
“We need to get back to work, but they aren’t letting us.”
Another Disney cast member, Ken, also told the Globe that everyone was hurting because of the lack of guidelines.
“Everyone loses. Disney, employees, park goers. There’s a safe way to do this, but the Governor still won’t allow it,” noted Ken. “It’s just so frustrating.”
As of Wednesday, neither the state nor Governor Newsom has said what the earliest reopening date will be, which will now most likely occur next year.