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State Clears Theme Parks, Ballparks to Reopen, with Strict Capacity Rules

A woman takes a picture of a man outside of the closed Disneyland theme park entrance.
A woman takes a picture of a man outside of the Disneyland theme park entrance, closed due to COVID-19, on Nov. 21, 2020 in Anaheim, California. | AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Disneyland, Universal Studios and other theme parks across the state, along with outdoor ballparks and stadiums, can reopen as early as April 1 subject to counties' rates of COVID-19 spread and with strict capacity-control mandates and required mask-wearing, state officials announced today.

The announcement marks a major policy shift relating to theme parks, which the state had earlier said would not be permitted to reopen until their home counties reached the least-restrictive tier of the state's "Blueprint for a Safer Economy," a four-level system guiding reopenings of businesses and other attractions.

Under the new guidance announced by the California Department of Public Health, theme parks will now be allowed to reopen when their home county reaches the "red" tier, which is the second-most-restrictive level of the economic blueprint. Los Angeles County — home to Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain — and Orange County — home to the Disneyland Resort and Knott's Berry Farm — are both still in the most restrictive "purple" tier, but both could advance to the "red" tier by the end of the month.

Orange County officials are expecting to reach the red tier on St. Patrick's Day if their trends continue. Los Angeles County officials have similar expectations.

When the counties reach the "red" tier, theme parks can open at 15% of overall capacity. When they advance to the ``orange'' tier, capacity will be increased to 25%, and in the least-restrictive ``yellow'' tier, capacity of 35% will be allowed.

Only in-state visitors will be allowed at the theme parks.

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, who sponsored legislation to reopen theme parks, said initially officials were eyeing a plan that only allowed Orange County residents in Disneyland and Knott's. Quirk-Silva said the state's move makes her bill moot, but the legislation could be kept available as a shell bill for something related. Hearings were scheduled in Sacramento next week on youth sports, she said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom had hinted during a visit to Long Beach earlier this week that a deal was imminent to allow fans to attend sporting events. Under the guidance announced Friday, outdoor sports and live performance venues can also reopen on April 1, also with capacity limits based on the county's tier ranking.

For counties in the most restrictive "purple" tier, outdoor venues will be strictly limited to a total of 100 people, with only local residents permitted, advance reservations or tickets required and no concessions or concourse sales allowed.

When counties reach the less-restrictive "red" tier, capacity will be increased to 20%, with primarily in-seat concessions allowed. In the even less-restrictive "orange" tier, 33% capacity will be allowed, and in the top "yellow" tier, capacity will increase to 67%.

Only in-state visitors will be permitted to the venues in counties in the "red," "orange" and "yellow" tiers.

"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, the state's Health and Human Services secretary. "Even with these changes, California retains some of the most robust public health protocols in the country."

Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort, issued a statement saying, "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. 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."

The president of the union representing many Disney theme park workers also hailed the news.

"Our Disney cast members are heartened by this good news today that the Disney parks will be reopening in a month," said Andrea Zinder, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324. "They have been furloughed or out of a job for a year now and are excited to go back to work to provide Californians with a bit more magic in their lives. Our priority will be tocontinue to work closely with the governor and Disney to ensure our members are kept safe from COVID-19 infections on the job as the parks reopen."

Karen Irwin, president/COO of Universal Studios Hollywood, called the announcement "exciting news."

"We deeply appreciate the partnership with state and local health and government officials, and are thrilled to have finally arrived at this milestone announcement," Irwin said. "The health and safety of our guests and team members remain our top priority, and we're committed to ensuring full compliance with our newly established protocols as we continue to create an exceptional entertainment experience for everyone. We are ready to reopen, ready to bring our team members back to work, ready to help stimulate the local economy and ready to welcome guests."

Angels President John Carpino said he was grateful to the state and Major League Baseball for developing plans to reopen ballparks to fans, with the new season just around the corner.

"We are thrilled to welcome fans back safely to the Big A," he said.

Dodgers President/CEO Stan Kasten also thanked state officials.

"Like the governor, we're optimistic that California will continue to make progress in the fight against COVID-19 and that we can safely host fans to start the season," he said. "Safety is paramount, and the Dodgers continue to work with local officials and Major League Baseball to finalize protocols to protect players, fans and staff."

The Dodgers and Angels both indicated that ticket-sale information will be released shortly.

LA Galaxy President Chris Klein and Dignity Health Sports Park General Manager Katie Pandolfo issued a joint statement called the announcement a "welcome update," and said the team will give its season-ticket holders the first chance to attend matches in person.

Quirk-Silva said that with the coronavirus cases dropping and inoculations rising, residents shouldn't get complacent about infection-control.

"We still have work to do," she said. "But the public does as well. Again, we're heading into a hot summer weekend and as people start to feel better they relax and that is exactly something we want them to do, to enjoy the outdoors, but they need to keep a mask on and be mindful of all the safety protocols."

Mike Lyster, a spokesman for Anaheim, said the news was not only encouraging to Disneyland, but to the small businesses that benefit from the theme park's consumer traffic.

"We still have work to do, no doubt, but this is one of the brightest spots we've had in the pandemic," Lyster said.

Anaheim is nearing 200,000 inoculations out of 800,000 in the county, Lyster said.

"It's a growing number every day," Lyster said. "We're cranking along here doing about 5,000 a day."

Lyster echoed Quirk-Silva that residents should not let their guard down even as shots go into arms, but added, "We should take a moment and realize we're making progress."

The city's unemployment rate is 9%, meaning 15,000 residents are out of work with about half receiving some sort of benefits, Lyster said.

"The real relief that comes here is for the economic devastation we've seen," Lyster said of the park reopenings. "I've talked to so many small business owners who have mortgaged their homes to keep them from going under. They rely on the theme parks. We all look forward to the fun of these things being back open. The economic recovery is critical to our city."

Buena Park Mayor Pro Tem Sunny Park said officials there sent a letter to Newsom several months ago "inviting him to Buena Park to see the impact on the local community as a result of the closure of Knott's Berry Farm. We are still waiting to hear from him. I am in support of safely opening theme parks in California with all safety measures in place."

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