California has released its long-awaited guidelines on how theme parks can reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic — and they’re not what the theme park industry wanted to hear. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration will allow smaller parks to reopen once their home counties reach the “moderate” or “Orange” tier of California’s reopening system. But for the large parks — the likes of Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, SeaWorld San Diego, Legoland California, and the state’s Cedar Fair and Six Flags parks — they will only be allowed to open in the “minimal” or “Yellow” tier.

The tiers in California’s COVID-19 reopening guidelines

As of Tuesday, no California county with a major theme park met that requirement. Only one urban area of the state, San Francisco County, has entered that least-restrictive tier. 

“We don’t have the crystal ball,” said Dr. Mark Ghlay, California’s health secretary. “I don’t know in Orange County or San Diego County will indeed enter yellow, but as I said earlier, I think there’s lots of work we can do together, both state and local leaders, business leaders, community leaders, and individuals, to do what we can to make sure that we reduce transmission throughout our counties and there is a path forward there.”

Orange County, home to both Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, had endorsed reopening theme parks once the county was in the “Orange” tier, as had a coalition of Disneyland unions. Universal Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain are both in Los Angeles County, which remains in the state’s most-restrictive “Purple” tier. 

Statewide, California has reported 3,474 new COVID-19 cases and 27 new deaths as of Monday. 2,241 people with confirmed cases are currently hospitalized, including 660 people in the ICU. A total of 870,791 cases have been confirmed across the state since the pandemic began– including 91,000 cases among those 17 and under — and 16,970 people have died of COVID-19. 

Even when urban areas reach these tiers, large parks would still operate under plenty of restrictions. Some have become commonplace among large theme parks in Florida, including requiring face masks to be worn in both indoor and outdoors areas and restricting capacity to 25 percent. In a small victory for the industry, the guidelines contain no geographic restrictions on guests to large parks, as had reportedly been proposed earlier in October. 

Other restrictions, however, go beyond what other states have implemented. For instance, the guidelines would not allow any indoor queue spaces, which are common at Disneyland and Universal Hollywood. 

“For indoor attractions and rides, develop an outdoor queuing system prior to entry into the attraction’s indoor operation,” the guidelines state. “Install impermeable barriers between lines with switchback queuing areas or close sections of switchback lines/queues to ensure sufficient physical distance between visitors.”

You can read the full set of guidelines here

Soon after the guidelines’ release, they were harshly criticized in a statement from Disneyland Resort president Ken Potrock. 

Potrock’s statement was soon followed by an equally critical response from Erin Guerrero, executive director of California Attractions and Parks Association.

“Let me be unequivocal– the guidance issued by the Newsom Administration will keep theme parks shuttered for the foreseeable future,” Guerrero said in her statement. “By forcing amusement parks to stay closed until their home county reaches Tier 4, the Governor has issued a ‘Keep Theme Parks Closed Indefinitely’ Plan which will devastate California’s major theme park industry. This plan prolongs unemployment for tens of thousands of people, hastens  bankruptcy for families and small business owners adjacent to parks, and contributes to insolvency for local governments whose budgets rely on parks as an anchor economic driver.”

Legoland California president Kurt Stocks said in his own statement that Gov. Newsom’s plan lacks a scientific basis. “The guidance issued today by the state is arbitrary and unacceptable to the industry,” Stocks said. “Not allowing theme parks to open until Tier 4 will destroy the industry in California and the economic impact to industries that rely heavily on theme parks will be catastrophic. The administration’s actions to this point have cost tens of thousands of jobs across the industry, and today’s announcement will all but confirm that thousands more will be lost.” 

You can read more statements from California theme parks here.

CAPA declined to comment to Theme Park Tribune on whether it is considering any legal action on the state’s guidelines.

Disneyland unions also came out against the guidelines as released by Newsom’s administration. “We’re disappointed that the Governor did not take us up on our offer to give input from the workers perspective,” said Maria Hernandez, spokesperson for Unite Here Local 11, which represents hotel employees at Disneyland Resort.

This story was updated after publication with a statement from Unite Here Local 11.

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