ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — A senior health adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state is taking a data-and-science based approach when it comes to reopening theme parks but did not provide the exact criteria it has to meet before issuing safety and health guidelines that would allow for the reopening of Disneyland and other theme parks across the state.

In a statement to Spectrum News 1 about “amusement parks,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, said California's No. 1 priority "is to lead with public health to slow the spread of the virus to begin reopening our economy and get Californians back to work safely and sustainably."  

“The COVID 19 pandemic has impacted the health and livelihoods of too many workers across this country,” Ghaly said in an emailed statement. “Our Blueprint for a Safer Economy is driven by science to keep the risk of COVID-19 transmission low.”

What You Need To Know

  • After Disney announced layoffs, a state health adviser says California has to lead with public health and slow the spread of the virus before reopening amusement parks and businesses 

  • Disney says it plans to lay off 28,000 workers at its two theme park resorts in Anaheim and Orlando

  • 67 percent of the 28,000 workers are part-time employees

  • Disney Parks chairman blames California Gov. Gavin Newsom for not issuing guidelines to reopen Disneyland 

Ghaly said without a vaccine, it is impossible to eliminate the economic impacts caused by this coronavirus.

"But by taking a measured data- and science-based approach to phasing in and out transmission prevention protocols, we can minimize the health and economic risks that would be caused by opening and shutting repeatedly,” Ghaly said. “Until there's a vaccine, the most important things all Californians can do to reduce COVID-19 transmission is masking, keeping physical distance and avoiding mixing when possible.”

Spectrum News 1 follow-up questions to the state health care agency that provided the statement were not returned. The vague statement did not mention if and when the state would release guidelines to reopen Disneyland and other theme parks across the state, which Disney officials, local business leaders, and city officials have been urging for.

The statement came a couple of hours after Josh D’Amaro, chairman of the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said that the company plans to lay off 28,000 workers at its domestic theme parks in Anaheim and Orlando, Fla.

The Disneyland Resort is Orange County's largest employer. The resort has more than 30,000 employees who work at various positions in the company’s two theme parks, three hotels, and an outdoor retail center. The theme parks and the three hotels have remained closed since mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic began. Meanwhile, the Downtown Disney retail strip reopened in July but at limited operating capacity.

Last week, D’Amaro urged the governor to issue guidelines to reopen Disneyland, saying that they could do so safely and responsibly like what the company has done at its theme parks around the world and Florida.

D’Amaro blamed the layoffs on the governor for his “unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen” and the continued effect of the coronavirus, which has limited Disney’s business operations at Walt Disney World and Downtown Disney in Anaheim.

Disney did not say how many workers it would lay off at each resort, only that 67 percent of those affected are part-time employees.

“As heartbreaking as it is to take this action, this is the only feasible option we have 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,” D’Amaro said in a letter to cast members.

Unite Here Local 11, the union representing hotel workers at Disney hotels in Anaheim, says that 950 of their members in Anaheim will be laid off, effective Nov. 1.

The union said that furloughed Disney workers would caravan to the state capital in Sacramento on Wednesday and urge Newsom to sign AB 3216, which would allow companies to rehire qualified, laid-off employees. The bill passed the state’s assembly and senate at the end of August.

“Our members have given decades of their lives to companies like Disney,” Unite Here Local 11 co-president Ada Briceño said. “Now, through no fault of their own, they are being laid off. We urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign AB 3216 a lifeline for hospitality workers.”