California releases guidelines for theme park reopenings

Larger parks are likely months away from reopening

California has released guidelines around theme parks reopening in the state.

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After months of forced shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Golden State has approved smaller and moderately-sized parks to reopen with strict rules in place – face masks must be worn at all times, except for when eating or drinking, and capacity will be limited to 25% with reservations required, according to California’s COVID-19 guidelines page.

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However, larger amusement parks like Disneyland, Universal Studios and Six Flags Magic Mountain will still be unable to reopen until the county where the parks are located is within the “yellow” tier indicating minimal coronavirus risk, while smaller parks will be allowed to open in the “orange” tier, with added modifications such as only outdoor attractions and capacity of 25%, but not more than 500 people. The state has a four-tiered color system with “yellow” as the least restrictive regarding reopening.

Larger theme parks like Disneyland won't be able to reopen until the county it is in reaches "yellow" status. (iStock)

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The reopening plans for the larger parks are likely months away as Los Angeles County is still considered in the purple tier, or high-risk for coronavirus spread.

The new guidelines around theme parks come as the parks have reportedly put pressure on state lawmakers to release rules around reopening. Though, larger parks have not been happy with the outcome.

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Ken Potrock, President of Disneyland Resort, argued against the new guidelines, calling them “arbitrary” in a statement shared with FOX Business.

“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. Nevertheless, 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 and state-operated facilities. Together with our labor unions we want to get people back to work, but these State guidelines will keep us shuttered for the foreseeable future, forcing thousands more people out of work, leading to the inevitable closure of small family-owned businesses, and irreparably devastating the Anaheim/Southern California community,” the statement read.

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Erin Guerrero, Executive Director, California Attractions and Parks Association, echoed Potrock’s opinions in a statement.

“To say today’s announcement on theme parks is disappointing would be a grave understatement.”

Dr. Clayton Chau, Director or Orange County Health Care Agency, said in a Tuesday meeting with the board of supervisors that he foresees a projected opening for larger parks “by next summer, hopefully.”

As for reaching the state's goals,  Chau expressed concern that California's third-highest populated county, with several colleges and universities, “where folks [are] coming in from outside the county and outside the state, I think it’s going to be very hard to achieve the yellow tier.”

Theme parks have been struggling since the shutdown in March.

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
DISWALT DISNEY COMPANY147.13-1.96-1.31%
CMCSACOMCAST CORP.51.75-0.05-0.10%
SIXSIX FLAGS ENTERTAINMENT32.41-0.10-0.31%

Last year  Disney's Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products group contributed 37% of the entertainment giant's revenues. Pandemic related closures have contributed to company stock falling more than 13%.

Universal's theme parks, owned by Comcast, contributed $5.93 billion last year to NBCUniversal's revenues of $34 billion. Universal had been seeing growth at the parks and last August announced an expansion in Florida with plans for its "Epic Universe"  but construction was put on hold this past spring. Comcast stock is down 1.5% year to date.

As for Six Flags, last week it announced it was laying off 10% of its workforce as its 19 parks try to operate during the pandemic. Six Flags, which has seen its stock tumble more than 54% year to date, will release third-quarter financial earnings before the market opens next Wednesday, October 28.

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