Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that his administration will be inspecting the COVID-19 safety measures at Disney World and other theme parks around the country before California issues its own guidelines on how parks can reopen.
“We’re trying to get a better handle on what we’re being told, what we’re reading about, and our own concerns and our own environment as it relates to what makes our theme parks distinctive and unique,” Newsom said during a Monday news conference. “What’s worked in their states and what hasn’t worked in their states as it relates to guidance, as it relates to mandates as it relates to messaging.”
On Tuesday, California health secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly revealed that the visits had already taken place.
“The team visited Florida theme parks, likely in Orlando,” Ghaly said. “We wanted to find out in action how a park and the community surrounding it functions in a time that we’re facing COVID transmission, and how it plays out not just in the park, but beyond.”
This marks a shift in tone from Newsom’s comments last week. After weeks of being publicly bashed by Disney and other theme park operators, and repeatedly promising the reopening guidelines were coming “soon,” he said he was in “no hurry” to issue those guidelines.
Florida and California’s COVID-19 experiences do have some similarities — each experienced a summer surge in cases and each remain among the top five states in cases reported over the last seven days.
However, their approaches to mitigating the pandemic have been drastically different. Newsom issued a statewide mandate requiring face masks to be worn in public spaces in June; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and close ally of President Donald Trump, did not issue a mask mandate and banned fines for people who violate local mask rules. As California’s summer surge slowed, Newsom created a new tiered framework that has restricted most indoor operations for non-essential businesses in places like L.A. County; in Florida, DeSantis removed capacity restrictions on restaurants and bars in late September and even said football stadiums can welcome back full crowds.
Florida signed off on theme parks reopening starting in June with Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando. Disney World followed in July. The state allowed parks to submit their own safety plans, which included requiring face masks, limiting capacity, and encouraging physical distancing. DeSantis has said Disney and others can now operate with zero restrictions, but so far, the measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 have remained in place.
In contrast, California parks have been waiting on the state to set the rules. Newsom has yet to release those coveted reopening guidelines. The proposed rules drew such ire from the theme park industry that they asked the governor to shelve the plans and negotiate further.
On Monday, Newsom addressed the resistance to the proposed guidelines, which reportedly included a 25 percent capacity limit and a geographic restriction where only people within 120 miles of the park could be allowed inside.
“We got a lot of feedback on those draft guidelines,” Newsom said. “Folks asked us for more time. They asked us for more deliberation [and] engagement. We’re doing just that. We’re seeking to understand ourselves directly without the intermediaries, and that was the frame that I was focusing on a moment ago — that we’re doing our own stubborn research and going across states to learn more and not just making this an academic exercise. I want folks to come back and tell me what they saw, what their own experience was, because this is serious.”
Throughout it all, California parks have argued the experiences of other states should end their state’s seven-month shutdown of theme parks. Even Disney World unions have praised the company’s COVID-19 rules at the resort’s four theme parks, while public health officials in multiple states have said no outbreaks have been tied to reopened parks.
Disney has also partially blamed Newsom and the lack of reopening guidelines for laying off 28,000 workers in its theme park division, though at least 15,000 of those affected employees work at Disney World. Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando have also laid off thousands of workers despite being allowed to reopen.
Of course, there have been significant layoffs among Disneyland employees. An Oct. 7 estimate by the Orange County Register said at least 8,400 people at the resort have lost their jobs, followed by more than 200 actors who were let go as part of the permanent closure of two stage shows at the resort: “Frozen: Live at the Hyperion” at Disney California Adventure and “Mickey and the Magical Map” at Disneyland.
Editor’s Note: Gov. Newsom’s original statement made it appear the visits to other theme parks would take place in the future. Subsequent statements from his administration made it clear those visits had already taken place. The story has been updated accordingly.
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