California sets 'unworkable' requirements for theme park reopenings, Disney says

Key Points
  • Disneyland unions earlier had asked the state to let the resort, located in Anaheim, in Orange County, reopen when the county reached "moderate" spread.
  • The decision, announced by California's health secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, means Disneyland and Comcast's Universal Studios will not be allowed to reopen for the foreseeable future.
  • In a statement, Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort, said: "We have proven that we can responsibly reopen" but new California Covid-19 coronavirus "arbitrary" guidelines "will keep us shuttered for the foreseeable future."

In this article

An entrance area to Disneyland stands empty on September 30, 2020 in Anaheim, California.
Mario Tama | Getty Images

Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood were dealt devastating news on Tuesday after California told big theme parks they could not open until daily coronavirus cases dropped below 1 per 100,000 in their counties.

The announcement is a big blow to Disney and Universal, who had been hoping that their parks would be able to reopen when their counties reached "moderate" spread or between 1 and 3.9 cases per 100,000 people. Instead, the state said these companies must wait for the lowest tier, "minimal," in order to reopen.

"We have proven that we can responsibly reopen, with science-based health and safety protocols strictly enforced at our theme park properties around the world," Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort, said in a statement Tuesday. "Nevertheless, the State of California continues to ignore this fact, instead mandating arbitrary guidelines that it knows are unworkable and that hold us to a standard vastly different from other reopened businesses and state-operated facilities."

Potrock called the decision "devastating," particularly for the Anaheim and Southern California community.

Currently Orange County, where Disneyland's two California parks are located, is seeing 4.6 cases per 100,000 people and is listed in the "substantial" range, just above "moderate."

"I don't know when Orange County will enter the yellow (minimal) tier," Dr. Mark Ghaly, California's health secretary, said during a news briefing Tuesday.

Similarly, Los Angeles County, where Universal Studios Hollywood is located, is seeing 10.1 cases per 100,000 people.

"Pushing us into Tier Four behind other businesses that have already reopened makes no sense," Karen Irwin, president and chief operating officer of Universal Studios Hollywood, said in a statement. "It ignores science, reason and the economic devastation this will bring to the thousands of our employees, the indirect businesses that rely on us and our industry overall."

"We should be in Tier Three, along with other industries that have proven they can reopen responsibly," she said. "Our employees are ready to go back to work and the fact that they won't be able to do so until well into next year is shameful."

Disney and Universal aren't the only parks that won't be able to open because of these guidelines. Knott's Berry Farm, a popular amusement destination, is also located in Orange County and unable to open its doors.

"Cedar Fair is extremely disappointed and frustrated with the lack of reasonable consideration given to the opening of California's most popular theme parks," Raffi Kaprelyan, regional vice president of Cedar Fair, which operates Knott's Berry Farm, said in a statement. "Our company has safely operated 7 of its 13 parks across the U.S. this year with zero cases of COVID-19 being traced back to our properties."

Cedar Fair also operates California's Great America and Gilroy Gardens.

Smaller theme parks with a capacity of 15,000 visitors or less, however will be permitted to reopen when their counties reach the "moderate" spread level.

These delays are devastating for Disney and Universal's theme park businesses. In September, Disney was forced to lay off 28,000 employees from its theme parks, blaming California's restrictions for the decision.

Disney responds to Sen. Elizabeth Warren's criticism, saying her letter contains inaccuracies
Disney responds to Sen. Elizabeth Warren's criticism, saying her letter contains inaccuracies

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.