California continues to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, and it’s going to keep theme parks closed a little while longer. Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced that Disneyland, Universal Studios, and other theme parks in the state will remain shut for the time being—a decision that Disney chairman Bob Iger is apparently not happy with.
During a press conference on Wednesday (as revealed by Deadline), Newsom said there are no immediate plans to reopen California’s theme parks so long as covid-19 cases are failing to decline at the rate state officials are looking for. He said they’re letting “science and data make that determination” instead of economics. In addition, the long-awaited theme park guidelines—which were first discussed in July, back when Disneyland was first trying to reopen its doors—are still nowhere to be found in Newsom’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” and Newsom said there’s no rush to add them.
“We don’t anticipate in the immediate term any of these larger parks opening until we see more stability in terms of the data,” he said. “We feel there’s no hurry to put out guidelines, and we continue to work with the industry.”
This decision has angered the theme park industry. After Wednesday’s announcement, California Attractions and Parks Association—which represents California’s Disney Parks, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm, and others—issued a statement condemning the decision and calling on Newsom to release safety reopening guidelines for the state’s theme parks. Here’s the statement from executive director Erin Guerrero:
California theme parks are a signature industry in California. Parks have spent months developing comprehensive draft guidelines with input from international health and safety experts. Parks are ready to reopen with best practice protocols to provide a healthy and responsible environment for both guests and employees. We find it disconcerting that Governor Newsom has no planned timeline for issuing guidance for theme parks, and of great concern that he does not anticipate theme parks opening soon. Each day that parks are closed further decimates the amusement park industry. The Governor’s “no big rush” approach is ruining businesses and livelihoods for thousands who could responsibly be back at work.
Disney’s been taking the news extra hard. According to Newsom, Iger resigned from the state task force for economic recovery over disagreements related to reopening plans. In addition, Disney put out a statement from Dr. Pamela Hymel, Chief Medical Officer for Disney Parks Experiences and Products, saying that other Disney Parks around the world have found a way to reopen in a way they claim is safe for guests and cast members. Here is her statement in full:
We absolutely reject the suggestion that reopening the Disneyland Resort is incompatible with a “health-first” approach. The fact is, that since March we have taken a robust science-based approach to responsibly reopening our parks and resorts across the globe. Our health and safety protocols were developed in consultation with epidemiologists and data scientists, and after considering guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and experts in local government and health agencies. All of our other theme parks both in the United States and around the world have been allowed to open on the strength of our proven ability to operate with responsible health and safety protocols.
California saw about 3,400 new covid-19 cases on Wednesday—which is much lower than the August peak of over 11,000 in a single day but is still pretty high. Orange County, where Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure are located, is listed as having a “substantial” number of cases (the second-highest tier behind “widespread”), with about 3.2% positivity rate. This means many indoor places are open, like movie theaters and restaurants, albeit with limited capacity. However, bars and offices remain closed—along with theme parks. It’s tough, but Newsom said the state is simply trying to keep people safe.
“I understand the dialectic, the friction that many business leaders have that they want to move forward,” Newsom said. “But we’re going to be led by a health-first framework, and we’re going to be stubborn about it.”
The park closings and lower attendance numbers were cited as the reason behind Disney Parks laying off about 28,000 resort employees (keeping in mind that Disney also reinstated full salaries for its executives one month prior). It was recently revealed that about 8,800 of those who’ve been laid off are part-time union workers.
Disney World Resorts in Florida is currently open, although at reduced capacity. Florida most recently saw almost 2,600 novel coronavirus cases, though that could rise after Governor Ron DeSantis ordered that restaurants and bars could reopen at 100% capacity and sports stadiums could once again see full attendance.
Correction: A previous version of this story listed Bob Iger as Disney’s CEO. In fact, he is now Disney’s chairman. We regret the error.
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