California Theme Parks Can Begin Reopening Rides on April 1

Assuming local conditions are met, parks will be able to reopen attractions and rides in just weeks

UPDATE: MARCH 5, 2021 – New state rules significantly speed up the previous theme park reopening timeline, now allowing even the largest parks, like Disneyland, to begin operating rides and attractions as soon as April 1.

California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly announced the change on Friday, saying that reopening for services beyond exclusively outdoor dining would be allowed once the county surrounding a given park enters the red tier. Previously, large parks were not permitted to begin any substantial opening until reaching the yellow, or least restrictive tier.

Orange County currently remains in the purple tier, which is more restrictive than red, but is likely to enter the red tier within the next couple of weeks, based on current trends.

If parks do opt to reopen while in the red tier, capacity will be limited to just 15 percent, and only California residents will be allowed to visit. Only rides that do not require going indoors for a significant amount of time can operate, and indoor dining remains closed.

OCTOBER 20, 2021 – California theme parks have been begging the state to issue a roadmap for them to reopen for months. And, some seven months after they closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, California Health and Human Services has released those guidelines, along with new guidelines for professional sports stadiums and other sectors.

The new rules create a tier system that establishes different regulations for theme parks of different sizes. The reopening rules treat the largest operations, including Disneyland and Universal Studios, with the greatest degree of caution, while allowing smaller parks, and facilities with some theme park-like activities to move forward faster.

“I am very mindful, for example, if you have a park, in a city, with a Ferris wheel, that that’s not a ‘theme park’ in the sense so many of us consider, so one has to distinguish between the two,” Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press conference prior to the release of today’s guidelines.

Image: California Public Health

Small theme parks, in the vein of Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier, will be able to begin opening as soon as the counties where they are located enter the Orange/3 Tier. They can have no more than 500 guests at a time, and can only sell tickets to buyers located within the county where they are located. Larger theme parks will have to wait to begin opening until their county reaches the Yellow/4 Tier.

Orange County, home to Disneyland and several other large theme parks, is currently at the Orange/2 Tier, indicating “substantial” threat from COVID-19. Los Angeles is at the Purple/1 Tier, the state’s most restrictive level.

All theme parks will be required to operate based only on advanced ticket sales, regardless of size, and maintain records of who attended. Only outdoor attractions and facilities are eligible to open at this time.

Image: California Public Health

Stadiums are allowed to reopen with fewer restrictions because, Secretary Ghaly said, they are deemed to be a comparatively lower-risk environment. Fans attending games will be required to buy a ticket for a specific, assigned seat and remain in that seat, wearing a mask except when actively eating or drinking, for the duration of the experience. This enables spacing between household units and eases contact tracing because, in the event of a positive case, officials can quickly contact anyone who may have been seated in the same section of the stadium.

The experience of going to a game will differ from before the pandemic. Most notably, attendees must stay in their seats throughout, so all concession stands and shops will be required to switch to a remote ordering and delivery model.

theme park reopening slide presentation

Image: California Public Health

Today’s announcement also included an update on personal care services. Tattoo parlors, massage services, and other providers have now been moved into “tier one” for indoor operations, matching the guidelines for hair and nail salons.

While many in the industry–and some die-hard theme park fans–had been loudly clamoring for what they felt were overdue guidelines, Newsom’s administration wanted to be extremely careful about how the reopenings were handled. The Orange County Register reports that a special task force was convened to study the issue, including making personal site visits to California parks both large and small, as well as traveling to Orlando, Florida, where theme parks have already reopened, to asses the risk factors.

“We’re being very sober, and forgive me, stubborn about some industries in the state that I know are eager to get guidelines,” Newsom said. “I hope one recognizes our stubbornness on a health-first, data-driven, decision-making process is done with our eyes wide open.”

RELATED: Disneyland Employees Want Daily COVID Testing, but the Company Shot Down the Idea

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