California health officials on Tuesday set out strict conditions for the reopening of theme parks such as Disneyland that were forced to shut down because of the coronavirus crisis, with the new guidelines likely extending the closures for several more weeks.
Under the eagerly anticipated protocols, large parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios will be allowed to reopen once coronavirus transmission in the county in which they operate reaches the state's least restrictive "yellow" tier.
A smaller park will be allowed to reopen once its home county reaches the second least restrictive tier.
Orange County, home to Disneyland in Anaheim, currently is in the "red", or second tier, while Universal Studios is in the "purple," the state's most restrictive tier.
Once allowed to reopen, larger theme parks can only operate at 25 percent capacity and visitors will have to make advance reservations and must wear face coverings except when eating or drinking, according to the guidelines.
Mark Ghaly, the state's director of health and human services, said it was unclear when the theme parks will be able to reopen given the fluctuating Covid-19 infection rates.
"There is a path forward," he told reporters. "We don't know when, but we know how."
California's theme parks were forced to shut down in March. Disney in September announced it would cut 28,000 jobs, blaming California officials for refusing to ease restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen.
The company's Florida theme park reopened in mid-July with boosted health and safety measures and reduced capacity.
Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort, lashed out at the protocols outlined Tuesday, saying they would lead to the closure of small family-owned businesses and keep the world's second-most visited theme park shuttered for the foreseeable future.
"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," he said in a statement.
"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."
Erin Guerrero, president of the California Attractions and Parks Association, also denounced the measures, saying they will devastate the industry and will essentially "keep theme parks closed indefinitely."
"This plan prolongs unemployment for tens of thousands of people, hastens bankruptcy for families and small business owners adjacent to parks, and contributes to insolvency for local governments whose budgets rely on parks as an anchor economic driver," she said in a statement.
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