ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. – California Gov. Gavin Newsom will not release the much-anticipated health and safety guidelines to reopen Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, and other theme parks across the state, as many were expecting this week.
After an organization representing the state’s theme parks, including Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Knott’s Berry Farm, objected to a draft of the proposed guidelines, the state pulled back on the announcement.
“Our Blueprint for a Safer Economy is driven by data and science to keep the risk of COVID-19 transmission low, and this upcoming guidance will be no exception,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a statement.
“Given the size and operational complexities of these unique sectors, we are seeking additional input from health, workforce, and business stakeholders to finalize this important framework – all leading with science and safety,” Ghaly added.
The statement comes after the head of the theme parks division of the Walt Disney Co. announced the layoff of 28,000 employees at all levels of the company including Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World in Florida, and Disney Imagineering. Disneyland employs more than 30,000 cast members and Walt Disney World about 77,000.
In a sharply worded statement released earlier this week, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D'Amaro blamed the state partly for the layoffs.
"In light of the prolonged impact of COVID-19 on our business, including limited capacity due to physical distancing requirements and the continued uncertainty regarding the duration of the pandemic – exacerbated in California by the state’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen – we have made the very difficult decision to begin the process of reducing our workforce at our Parks, Experiences and Products segment at all levels," D'Amaro said.
There has been a groundswell of pressure from local business leaders and city officials to reopen the parks. With mounting tensions following the layoffs, former Disney CEO Bob Iger resigned from the state’s Economic Recovery Task Force. All of these developments have Newsom and his staff in a corner.
Theme parks across the state are a significant generator of business. The six major theme parks in the state attracted more than 49 million visitors in 2019, nearly half at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, according to the Themed Entertainment Industry, which represents professionals in the theme park industry. The closures of Disneyland and other theme parks have resulted in a ripple effect of other closures from hotels, vendors, and businesses that rely on the millions of theme park tourists.
Yet, that is the rub for Newsom and his health staff. Newsom is trying to balance a delicate business situation while also dealing with the coronavirus. As of Oct. 1, California has recorded 813,687 coronavirus cases and 15,888 deaths.
Still, Newsom was expected to release guidelines this week. However, the California Attractions and Parks Association, a trade organization that represents theme parks in the state, saw a copy of Newsom's initial guidelines and objected to it, according to reports.
“While we are aligned on many of the protocols and health and safety requirements, there are many others that need to be modified if they are to lead to a responsible and reasonable amusement park reopening plan,” CAPA Executive Director Erin Guerrero said in a statement to media Thursday. “We ask the governor not to finalize guidance for amusement parks before engaging the industry in a more earnest manner, listening to park operators’ expertise and collaborating with the industry on a plan that will allow for amusement parks to reopen responsibly while still keeping the health and safety of park employees and guests a top priority."
It is unclear when the state will release the guidelines. No date has been given. Spectrum News 1 follow-ups to the state health care agency and the governor's office were not returned as of press time.