California theme parks won’t reopen soon: Newsom

California

Nearly a week after delaying the release of coronavirus-related safety and health measures for theme parks, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday cast doubt that they will be permitted to open anytime soon.

“We feel there’s no hurry in putting out guidelines. We’re continuing to work with the industry,” the governor said at a news conference.

His comments came amid mounting economic uncertainty surrounding the monthslong closures of the state’s theme parks.

In recent weeks, Disney officials and Orange County lawmakers have stepped up pressure on the state to release guidelines that would pave the way for operations to resume.

Newsom’s administration had been expected to release the guidance last Friday, but scrapped the plan after the proposal came under criticism from industry leaders, the Associated Press reported.

In a written response to the governor’s comments Wednesday, Disney Parks’ Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pamela Hymel said the company “absolutely reject[s] the suggestion that reopening the Disneyland Resort is incompatible with a ‘health-first’ approach.”

The park’s health and safety protocols were developed in collaboration with experts and are in line with guidance from the the U.S. Centers for for Disease Control, Hymel said.

“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,” she wrote.

On Wednesday, the governor noted that when the new rules are issued, they won’t just be limited to well-known theme parks like Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios and Six Flags Magic Mountain — but will also include smaller amusement parks, such as the one on the Santa Cruz Pier.

“It’s very complex. They are like small cities, small communities, small towns,” he explained. “We don’t anticipate in the immediate term any of these larger theme parks opening until we see more stability in terms of the data.”

But state officials are also aware of the profoundly negative impact the closures are having economically, both locally and at the state level.

California overall is looking at losses of almost $80 million in travel-related spending this year, the AP reported, citing tourism industry officials.

And Anaheim, home to the Disneyland Resort, is facing a $100 million budget deficit, on top of mounting job losses, according to city officials.

Last week, the Walt Disney Co. announced it would be laying off about 28,000 employees in its parks divisions, which includes Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The layoffs are predominantly impacting part-time workers, with more than half of the total number in Florida.

Two days after the announcement, Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger, the company’s former CEO, abruptly resigned from the governor’s COVID-19 economic task force.

Negotiations are ongoing and include the direct operators of theme parks, the organization that represents the sector, and also labor partners that represent the employees, according to California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.

While Ghaly said he’s unsure when those conversations will wrap up, he maintained on Tuesday that theme parks remain “a high priority for the administration.”

Ghaly did not offer a time frame for when new guidelines will be issued, but hopes it will be “as soon as possible.”

Newsom emphasized that, as in other sectors of California’s economy, the state will make its determination based on COVID-19 data and science.

“We’re going to be led by a health-first framework and … we’re going to be stubborn about it,” Newsom said. “That’s our commitment.”

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