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Pressured by theme parks, Newsom wavers on California reopening rules

Disneyland on March 13
Visitors take photos at Disneyland on March 13, the last day the park was open.
(Amy Taxin / Associated Press)

Facing mounting pressure to let theme parks such as Disneyland reopen amid the pandemic, California Gov. Gavin Newsom delayed issuing new operating rules after industry leaders pushed back against his administration’s initial plans.

Newsom’s administration had planned to release the guidance Friday, a spokesman for the governor’s office, Nathan Click, told the Sacramento Bee. But, following industry criticism of draft rules, state health officials said that no announcement was immediately expected and that conversations with the industry were ongoing.

“Given the size and operational complexities of these unique sectors, we are seeking additional input from health, workforce and business stakeholders to finalize this important framework,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s top public health official, said in a statement.

California has faced growing pressure to reopen theme parks from the industry and local officials worried about the pandemic’s economic effects on their communities. The state has a color-coded tier system that lets businesses including restaurants, retail shops and movie theaters reopen based on coronavirus case levels and infection rates, but it does not currently address theme parks.

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Disney officials this week announced the layoff of 28,000 workers, largely at its theme parks in Florida, which have reopened, and California, which are awaiting the state’s guidance to be able to do so. Also this week, Walt Disney Co. Chairman Bob Iger quit Newsom’s economic recovery task force.

Amusement park leaders saw an initial draft of the proposed rules Thursday and urged state officials to further consult with the industry before finalizing them, said Erin Guerrero, executive director of the California Attractions and Parks Assn.

“While we are aligned on many of the protocols and health and safety requirements, there are many others that need to be modified if they are to lead to a responsible and reasonable amusement park reopening plan,” she said in a statement. No further details of the draft guidance were released.

A message was sent to Disneyland seeking comment on the proposed California guidance. The theme park in Anaheim has been closed since March 14 due to the pandemic.

Workers United Local 50, which represents Disneyland’s food service workers, said on social media that more than a third of its nearly 7,800 members would be affected by layoffs, including about 400 full-time workers.

Several Orange County officials have pressed Newsom to issue guidance for theme parks to reopen, noting that parks have reopened elsewhere in the country with health and safety measures and that many park activities are outdoors, where viral transmission is considered less risky.

“We need these parks to open not just for our children or tourists but for our businesses and the communities that rely on them,” Michelle Steel, chair of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, said this week.


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