Despite pressure, California governor won't budge on reopening Disneyland, other large theme parks

Curtis Tate, USA TODAY

As California theme park operators and employees pleaded for the state to allow the parks to reopen with coronavirus precautions, Gov. Gavin Newsom gave them a firm answer on Tuesday: no.

Though Disney and Universal parks have been open again since the summer in Florida, Newsom said California would not budge on its recently issued guidelines that require counties to achieve a low rate of infection before large theme parks such as Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and Knott's Berry Farm could reopen.

"We as a state are going to be driven by data and science," Newsom said at a news conference Tuesday. "And we’re going to be driven by public health first."

California classifies its counties in four tiers of coronavirus spread: purple, red, orange and yellow. Purple indicates the highest spread, yellow the lowest. Orange County, the home of Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, is in the red tier, the second-highest. Los Angeles County, home of Universal Studios Hollywood, is in the purple tier.

California has more than 900,000 cases, according to the state's coronavirus tracker, the most of any state.

It could be weeks, if not months, before either county achieves the yellow tier, allowing the theme parks to reopen at 25% capacity. To reach the tier, the county must have less than one daily new case per 100,000 population and a seven-day average of less than 2% positive coronavirus tests.

Smaller theme parks, with a maximum visitor capacity of 15,000, can reopen in the orange tier at 25% capacity or 500 visitors, whichever is less. That requires less than four daily new cases per 100,000 population and a seven-day average of less than 5% positive tests.

California's theme park operators have criticized the state guidelines. On Tuesday, Erin Guerrero, president of the California Attractions and Parks Association, asked Newsom to provide the data and science that justifies keeping large theme parks closed indefinitely.

"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," Guerrero said in a statement. "If they can reopen safely in other states and countries, then why not in California?"

Universal Orlando reopened in June, and Disney World in July, at reduced capacity and with precautions such as mandatory masks, social distancing, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, increased hand washing and hand sanitizing and the removal of high-touch and high-contact features and events.

Disney has also reopened its theme parks in Europe and Asia with similar protocols.

"We have proven that we can responsibly reopen, with science-based health and safety protocols strictly enforced at our theme park properties around the world," Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort, said in a statement last week.

But on Tuesday, Newsom cited the arrival of cooler weather, flu season and the seasonal increase in indoor activity in support of the state's cautious approach.

"Self-evidently, we should be concerned about opening up a large theme park, where by definition people mix from every walk of life," he said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Disneyland, Universal Studios can't reopen; Gov. Newsom won't budge