In California, a deliberately paced reopening plan is frustrating Disney and local lawmakers who feel the state should be moving faster. Disneyland, located in the Orange County, Calif., city of Anaheim, has been closed for more than 200 days. In September, the theme park announced that they would be laying off 28,000 workers, mostly theme park employees, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic related shutdowns. They placed the blame solely on California Governor Gavin Newsom. Before the pandemic, the park had been closed only a handful of times during its 65-year history. The larger Walt Disney World, located in Orange County, Fla., near Orlando, has been open, at limited capacity, for more than two months after resuming operations in July.
As reported by Deadline earlier this week, Governor Newsom hinted that movement is occurring between the Golden State and the likes of Disney and Universal over getting “people back to work” at some of the larger and smaller theme parks in the region.
In mid-March of this year, Californians began living under some of the most wide-reaching measures in the country, aimed at halting the coronavirus outbreak. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the “stay home” order for the state’s nearly 40 million residents on March 18. The state is ranked 48th when it comes to reopening non-essential businesses. Since May 5, California has gone from being a moderately restrictive state to the most restrictive state as of Aug. 11 as far as social distancing measures, a recent survey found.
Going out to eat with members of your household this weekend? Don’t forget to keep your mask on in between bites.
— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) October 3, 2020
A growing chorus of businesses small and large has been desperately lobbying California officials to reopen this fall as they struggle to survive after months of coronavirus shutdowns. The Walt Disney Co., one of the world’s largest entertainment companies, partially blamed California’s strict reopening rules for massive layoffs in its theme park division after trying unsuccessfully to get officials to allow the gates of Disneyland to swing open again. Disney’s blunt criticism is putting more pressure on Gov. Gavin Newsom and health officials at a critical moment.
— Disney Parks News (@DisneyParksNews) October 8, 2020
While refusing to give any details on the discussions with the theme parks, the former San Francisco Mayor said that “good faith” negotiations are based on a “health first frame mentality”. Newsom appeared to indicate that more information on talks with Disney, Universal, and smaller theme park companies could be coming later this week.
“We’re gong back and forth”, said Newsome during a Q&A following his statement before the cameras. The governor noted that state is “doing our own research on the viability of reopening the theme parks sooner rather than later.”
Erin Guerrero, Executive Director of the trade group California Parks and Attractions Association, issued a response to Newsom on Monday.
“It was heartening to hear Governor Newsom share that his administration is ready to work with the theme park industry.
“Theme parks have developed comprehensive, robust plans for reopening, inclusive of input from international health and safety experts. We also have the benefit of experience from theme parks in other states and around the world that have successfully reopened with extensive new protocols and modifications to protect guest and employees. Data and science do not point to theme parks as sources of transmission of COVID-19, showing that fighting the pandemic and responsible reopening can occur simultaneously.
“We applaud the governor for accepting our invitation to visit California’s iconic parks and we are eager to work together so theme parks can reopen responsibly and soon. Doing so will allow tens of thousands of people to get back to work and provide a much-needed jump start for local and state economies that have been decimated by the shutdown.”
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis’s eagerness to reopen his state’s economy—even as the number of new Covid-19 cases rose—paved the way for Disney World to reopen this summer. He was one of the first governors to allow businesses, including theme parks, to reopen following a lockdown that started later than in many other states. Disney World employs about 77,000 workers in the Orlando area and generates more than $700 million in sales-tax revenue for Florida, according to the state’s chief financial officer. Some have suggested politics plays a role, with Gov. Newsom being a Democrat and DeSantis being a Republican, but they both claim they are “following the science”.
So far Disney World attendance still appears weak. Deutsche Bank analysts who track theme-park traffic recently said attendance at Orlando-area theme parks is about 80% below 2019 levels. Disney doesn’t release data on how much it is limiting capacity, according to the Wall Street Journal.