Courtesy of Michael Buckner for Variety
Disneyland, Universal Studios and other theme parks in California — as well as sports stadiums — have gotten the green light to potentially reopen their gates once again after a long shutdown prompted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the California Department of Public Health, ballparks, stadiums and theme parks can open outdoors starting April 1 with “significantly reduced capacity, mandatory masking and other public health precautions,” should certain conditions be met.
“With case rates and hospitalizations significantly lower, the arrival of three highly effective vaccines and targeted efforts aimed at vaccinating the most vulnerable communities, California can begin gradually and safely bringing back more activities, especially those that occur outdoors and where consistent masking is possible,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, in a statement. “Even with these changes, California retains some of the most robust public health protocols in the country.”
In counties in the strictest, or purple, tier, outdoor sports and live performances with attendees will be limited to 100 people or fewer. No concession or concourse sales will be allowed and advanced reservations will be required. Once those regions reach the second-most restrictive, red, tier, capacity will be capped at 20%, with in-seat concession sales and no concourse sales. At the third of the four tiers, orange, those arenas will be capped at 33% capacity; once they reach the least restrictive tier, yellow, capacity can increased to 67%.
Notably, theme parks are not permitted to reopen in the purple, or most restrictive tier. Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego continue to remain in the purple tier. But once they reach the red tier, amusement parks can reopen with capacity limited to 15%, 25% in the orange tier and 35% in the yellow tier. Attendance is limited to in-state visitors only.
The purple (widespread) tier means that there are more than seven daily new cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate higher than 8%. The red (substantial) tier translates to four to seven daily new cases per 100,000 and a 5%-8% positivity rate. The orange (moderate) tier means one to 3.9 new cases and a 2%-4.9% positivity rate, while the least restrictive yellow (minimal) tier means less than one daily new case per 100,000 and a positivity rate of less than 2%.
“Throughout the pandemic, California’s business community has been committed to protecting the health and safety of workers and customers — and that won’t change now,” said Dee Dee Myers, a senior adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom. “We will continue to work together with our partners across all sectors of the economy as we reopen safely, sustainably and equitably.”
The move came after months of apparent tension between Disney and Newsom, with Disneyland Resort president Ken Potrock and California Attractions and Parks Association executive director Erin Guerrero at one point expressing disappointment in the State of California’s decision to keep theme parks closed. Walt Disney World reopened last July, allowing limited visitor capacity to the Orlando, Fla., theme park.
“We are encouraged that theme parks now have a path toward reopening this spring, getting thousands of people back to work and greatly helping neighboring businesses and our entire community,” Potrock said in a statement on Friday. “With responsible Disney safety protocols already implemented around the world, we can’t wait to welcome our guests back and look forward to sharing an opening date soon.”
At a Morgan Stanley conference on March 1, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek said he was “thrilled” with guest responses to the health and safety protocols that have been implemented at reopened Disney theme parks and resorts, while also noting that the industry’s recovery largely depends on the speed of U.S. vaccine rollout and consumers’ willingness to travel for vacation.
The Disney chief exec has been pleased so far by consumer sentiment around the company’s parks, believing that “demand is going to rebound quite handsomely.”
Disney has taken advantage of the Disneyland closing to end its much-used annual pass program for the Anaheim-based theme park and instead develop “new membership offerings” that are yet to be announced.
“In a non-COVID environment, it would have been a pretty tough [decision] to make, because they just keep renewing and renewing, but when you start lapping a year without anybody going for an annual pass program, that gives you the chance,” Chapek said at the investment conference. “We’re going to use that, though, in order to have an even better guest experience at Disneyland and manage the crowd so that no matter what day you go to Disneyland, you can have an extraordinary experience.”
Variety's Elaine Low contributed to this post.