ANAHEIM, Calif. — To Lorena Gonzalez, a nasal swab is just a minor inconvenience with a greater purpose.
"It tickles a little bit and (is) itchy," said Gonzalez, a member of the housekeeping staff at the Tropicana Inn & Suites in Anaheim. "But this is for the good of the guests."
With Disneyland in the backdrop, Gonzalez and many of her colleagues lined up in the Tropicana hotel parking lot to test for COVID-19.
The test is part of the hotel's efforts to increase services as its business neighbor Disneyland prepares to reopen next month amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Since Disneyland announced that it would reopen on April 30, after more than a year of being shut down by the pandemic, hotels and businesses around the resort have been busy making preparations. The Tropicana has called 10 of its furloughed employees back to work, began implementing daily temperature checks and health screening questions for their employees, and held twice a week COVID-testing.
"As soon as Disneyland reopens, then we're going to call back more of our out-of-work employees and reopen the Camelot [Inn & Suites] next door," said Greg Eisenman, the general manager of the Tropicana and Camelot hotels.
The preparations come a few weeks after California health officials released new guidance that allows Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, and other major theme parks and sporting events in the state to reopen with limited capacity starting April 1.
Under the new guidance, theme parks can reopen starting at 15% capacity when their home county reaches the red tier and increase attendance as their county climbs down the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy plan. This four-color coded system monitors a county's coronavirus cases. Currently, Orange County, the home of Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, is in the red tier, meaning there is still a substantial risk to spread coronavirus.
After more than a year of struggling to draw in guests due to the pandemic, Anaheim hoteliers welcomed the new guidance that reopens Disneyland. However, they still feel a bit slighted about the reopening caveat – theme park attendance is only limited to California residents.
"One of the first things people ask when they call us to inquire to reserve a room is 'When is California going to allow non-[California] residents to go to a theme park?'" Eisenman said. "[The new guidance] does take a big chunk of our business away."
Despite the lack of out-of-state visitors, Tropicana has booked several advanced reservations.
Last weekend, the hotel had its best occupancy level with guests attending Disney's Touch of Disney food and beverage event at Disney California Adventure. The hotel had 50 reservations last Saturday, Eisenman said. Before that, the hotel was averaging maybe five bookings for the weekend during the pandemic.
Eisenman said the hotel brought in Diagnostic Laboratory Science, a company specializing in performing nasal swab and antibody testing for COVID-19, as part of their reopening plans.
Twice a week until probably when the pandemic is over, Eisenman said, DLS will test the hotel staff to make sure they are COVID-19-free. The tests are not mandatory but strongly encouraged, Eisenman said. The tests are paid for by the employer's insurance, or if an employee is uninsured, money will come from the government CARES Act.
Wincome Hospitality, which owns hotels in Anaheim and Costa Mesa, is also testing its employees to ramp up and prepare for Disneyland's reopening.
"We are excited for the reopening of Disneyland Resort next month and look forward to welcoming back guests, and our tremendous hotel staff," Wincome CEO Paul Sanford said in a statement to Spectrum News. "Our team members are our most important asset, and their safety and health are at the very top of our concern as they return to work. We intend to make frequent COVID testing available to them at the worksite and at no cost to them as part of a comprehensive program to follow state and local guidelines and safely reopen Anaheim."
Eric Morgan, the co-owner of Torrance-based DLS, said since California released the new guidance, they've received an uptick in business from businesses and hotels wanting to reopen safely.
"With businesses reopening, business [COVID-19] testing is ramping up," Morgan said. "The main reasons: they want their employees to be safe, they want their customers to be safe, and the more testing we perform will allow the county to move through the colored tiers quicker."
Morgan said his clients run the gamut from cities and family-owned businesses to hotels and large enterprises.
"There are usually two sides to this," Morgan said. "Some employers call us because they are very interested in testing from a safety standpoint, but there are other employers that are hesitant. What we tell them is that it is better to know [if an employee tests positive for COVID-19] than having another mass outbreak."
"We want to get through this as quickly as possible," he said.
David Borjas, a chief engineer at the Tropicana, was one of the employees who got tested earlier this week. Borjas said it's crucial for staff to get tested.
Being in hospitality and so close to Disneyland, he and the other hotel staff have a lot of contact with the public, Borjas said.
"It's very important that we do this," he said. "It takes a lot of worries away."