By R.T. Watson
Walt Disney Co. blasted California's new protocols for reopening theme parks, saying the strict guidance would significantly complicate the company's efforts to reopen Disneyland.
Disneyland, the company's flagship park, has been shut for seven months because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the longest stretch since it opened 65 years ago.
The state's health and human services secretary, Mark Ghaly, on Tuesday announced guidelines that said large theme parks like Disneyland can reopen at limited capacity once nearby community spread of the new coronavirus has been officially deemed "minimal."
The announcement followed months of complaints from Disney and other theme-park operators against Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, for not outlining how and when parks might reopen.
In response to the new guidelines, Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock pointed to the company's record in reopening theme parks in Florida, Asia and Europe, as well as what he called inconsistent standards for different California businesses.
"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," Mr. Potrock said in a written statement. "The State of California continues to ignore this fact, instead mandating arbitrary guidelines that it knows are unworkable and that hold us to a standard vastly different from other reopened businesses."
California's reopening plan, christened the "Blueprint for a Safer Economy," is structured around a four-tier system where counties are permitted to ease restrictions on businesses and public spaces as they meet state-mandated metrics evaluating the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19.
Orange County, where Disneyland is located, has been relegated by state officials for several weeks to the "substantial" level, failing to advance to "moderate" spread, which allows for fewer restrictions.
Under California's new guidelines for theme parks, large venues like Disneyland or Comcast Corp.'s Universal Studios Hollywood, near Los Angeles, will be able to reopen only when their respective counties attain a level of "minimal" spread. Even at that stage, large theme parks will have to limit capacity to 25%.
The state issued looser restrictions for smaller theme parks, saying they could reopen, also at reduced capacity, once the counties where they are based reach a "moderate" spread level. Smaller theme parks are those with an overall capacity less than 15,000 people.
California recently sent researchers to theme parks operating elsewhere in the U.S. -- including Walt Disney World in Florida -- to evaluate their safety. Mr. Ghaly said the result of the analysis was valuable and reassuring on some points.
But he said other takeaways struck him as troubling. "The level of mixing, even without masks, that seemed very random and concerning to us, " he said.
Reaching a "minimal" level of community spread requires California counties to register a seven-day average of less than one new daily case per 100,000 people and an average positive-test rate of less than 2%.
"I think for a large county like us...it's going to be very hard to achieve," said Orange County health officer Dr. Clayton Chau in a written statement. He predicted it might take the county until next summer to reach the "minimal" tier.
California's self-proclaimed "slow and stringent" regulatory framework stands in contrast to that of Florida. Disney World, in Orange County, Fla., has been open at reduced capacity since July, thanks in large part to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis's eagerness to reopen the state's economy.
Mr. Ghaly didn't rule out the possibility that California's theme-park guidelines could be amended in the coming weeks and months.
Last month, Disney said it would lay off about 28,000 employees across its domestic theme-parks division. Disneyland generates billions of dollars in economic activity in and around Orange County, Calif.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires