The continued spread of the Delta variant has managed to erase months of progress by causing COVID-19 to surge again—especially among the unvaccinated. Of course, large gatherings make transmission even more likely, which is why some public health departments have enacted regulations that limit the size of crowds or require that anyone in attendance has received their shots. The latest example of this is in Los Angeles, where unvaccinated people will be banned from visiting popular amusement parks, including Six Flags Magic Mountain and Universal Studios Hollywood, when new regulations go into effect early next month.
As of Oct. 7, new protocols will go into effect in Los Angeles County that will require any visitors to theme parks to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test from within the previous 72 hours to be allowed entry. Children under the age of 12 who are ineligible to receive vaccines are exempt from the ban.
The restrictions come as part of a health order announced on Sept. 15 that will require proof of vaccination to enter bars, lounges, nightclubs, breweries, wineries, and distilleries in the county. But while some other major cities have adopted similar mandates, Los Angeles will be the first to see major theme parks affected by the new rules.
According to officials, theme parks fall under the "outdoor mega event" designation of the order, which "includes venues and events with more than 10,000 attendees that are ticketed and/or have controlled points of entry to a well-defined area, such as sport and music arenas and theme parks." They also point out that "attendees at indoor mega events are already required to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result prior to entry."
"As evidence mounts affirming the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, targeted vaccine requirements to protect the safety of populations at risk for infection are a critical part of policy strategies for preventing future surges of COVID-19," Barbara Ferrer, PhD, the director of LA County's Department of Public Health, said in a statement. "Targeted vaccination requirements are both able to create additional safety at workplaces, schools, establishments, and events, and they also increase vaccination coverage in a community."
In a statement to Travel + Leisure, a representative for Six Flags Magic Mountain said that the park would be instituting the new requirement. "Six Flags Magic Mountain will comply with the latest Los Angeles County Department of Public Health mandates regarding vaccination verification and COVID testing for park guests. As always, the safety of our guests and team members remains our top priority," the representative said.
But Universal Studios Hollywood, another major theme park in the county, has said they're planning on reviewing the new guidance before changing their operations. "Theme parks have not been categorized as mega-event venues in previous county health orders and have different operational capabilities and practices," a spokesperson for the park told local CW affiliate KTLA. "We are reviewing the updated order with health officials with that context in mind."
Notably, the same rules will not apply to Disneyland, which lies outside the Los Angeles County limits. However, the park has already instituted an indoor mask mandate for its guests and recommends that all visitors be vaccinated while not requiring proof, Travel + Leisure reports.
The new requirements come months after theme parks were allowed to reopen without any capacity restrictions. The earliest days of the pandemic saw parks closed for more than a year before they reopened to a limited number of visitors determined by transmission rates in each county.
During a press briefing on Sept. 15, California Gov. Gavin Newsom showed support for the county's decision, even as the state has seen a significant decline in COVID infections. "We need to be vigilant," he told reporters. "Of course, the best way to mitigate that … is to continue our vaccine efforts, and if this encourages more people to get vaccinated, then I believe it's the right thing to do, and I continue to encourage others to follow that path."