Major theme parks in California received bad news Tuesday as the state announced large theme parks cannot reopen until their respective counties enter Yellow Tier (Tier 1), the state's least restrictive reopening tier.
In San Diego, that means Legoland and SeaWorld will remain closed until further notice.
California Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly listed on power point slides, the reasons behind the decision.
He cited mixing tens of thousands of people from different areas and the ability to spread the virus to other businesses like hotels and restaurants, as the risk factors behind the guidelines.
The state defines large theme parks as those with a max capacity of at least 15,000 people. Some have been partially open under state guidelines reserved for zoos and aquariums.
Meanwhile, small theme parks like Belmont Park can open their rides when the county enters the Orange Tier (Tier 2), with restrictions, of course. San Diego County is still in the Red Tier, but hovering closer to Purple, the most restrictive tier of the four.
Dr. Ghaly mentioned San Diego's successful early warning detection process. Last week, the county warned the public about nearing the purple tier.
“In some ways the notes of caution that San Diego is able to provide to their residents is really a fantastic tool in controlling transmission and being able to communicate clearly as to where the county is,” said Ghaly.
Tuesday, several theme parks expressed their disappointment in the state’s decision.
“The guidance issued today by the state is arbitrary and unacceptable to the industry. Not allowing theme parks to open until Tier 4 will destroy the industry in California and the economic impact to industries that rely heavily on theme parks will be catastrophic. The administration’s actions to this point have cost tens of thousands of jobs across the industry, and today’s announcement will all but confirm that thousands more will be lost," a statement from Kurt Stocks, President of LEGOLAND California Resort, read in part.
Stocks argued that seven other Legolands across the country have proven they can reopen safely and protect millions of guests and tens of thousands of employees, so the San Diego Park should be able to open its gates.
The guidance from the Governor is grossly inconsistent with the guidelines given to other industries and lacks any scientific basis that can be supported by the CDPH," Stocks added.
SeaWorld referred NBC 7 to a statement from the Executive Director of the California Attractions and Parks Association:
“To say today’s announcement on theme parks is disappointing would be a grave understatement. The Governor has not used science or data to inform his decision. Theme parks have opened and operated safely around the world for months. Data and science prove that theme parks can operate responsibly anywhere – there is no rational reason to believe they can’t do so in California. No one cares more about park employee and guest safety than the parks themselves," the statement read in part.
Belmont Park general manager Steve Thomas said Tuesday's news was bittersweet.
"Today's news was, you know, it was bittersweet in a sense. It was nice that we got that separation from some of the bigger parks, but at the same time we're realizing that Orange Tier is a long way away," Thomas said.
Thomas said the pandemic restrictions enforced on the park this spring were decimating, adding that being a smaller, family-owned park, they don't have the same corporate structure as most larger parks.
There was a bright spot in the state's announcement, however: Dr. Ghaly stressed while the timeline is unclear, San Diego seems to be headed in the right direction.
“We don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know when Orange County or San Diego County will indeed enter yellow. But as I said earlier, I think there’s lots of work we can do together. Both state, local, business leaders, community leaders, individuals to do what we can to make sure that we reduce transmission throughout our county,” said Ghaly.
In a press conference via Zoom Wednesday, California theme park leaders banded together to respond to the state's guidelines as a collective whole.
Universal Studios President and COO Karen Irwin, Stocks, Regional Vice President of Knott's Berry Farm, Raffi Kaprelyan and Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock all joined the virtual press conference to express their disappointment with the state's guidelines.
Irwin said she is concerned about the wellbeing of Universal Studios employees since many are out of work. As a result, the Los Angeles County hot spot has been brainstorming ways to get their employees by.
"We have explored doing a reopening with some of the already permitted businesses on our site, whether that is food and beverage or retail, so we are exploring those possibilities," she said. "Unfortunately, that will only allow us to bring a fraction of our team back, but we would certainly do it."
Potrock said he and local amusement park leaders are trying to create a collaborative solution with the state.
“The concept of trying to come up with a collaborative solution, I think is the end goal for all of us," he said. "One that’s fair and balanced and takes into account all the facts we are referring to.”
“We would gladly and willingly would roll up our sleeves and work with the administration to do so," Potrock said.