Disneyland, Universal Studios at odds with California over expected theme park guidelines

California is poised to release its theme park reopening guidelines amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic, but Disneyland, Universal Studios and other California theme parks aren’t happy. 

Though California theme parks have urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to “expeditiously” let them reopen after closures of more than six months,the expected guidance from the state –based on seeing it in draft form – isn’t fully in line with what they had in mind, according to Erin Guerrero, executive director of California Attractions and Parks Association, which represents popular theme parks like Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm and Legoland. 

“We ask the Governor not to finalize guidance for amusement parks before engaging the industry in a more earnest manner, listening to park operators’ expertise, and collaborating with the industry on a plan that will allow for amusement parks to reopen responsibly while still keeping the health and safety of park employees and guests a top priority,” Guerrero said in a statement. 

Guerrero said theme park leaders saw an initial draft of state guidance Thursday.

“While we are aligned on many of the protocols and health and safety requirements, there are many others that need to be modified if they are to lead to a responsible and reasonable amusement park reopening plan,” she said.    

But state officials say they’re seeking input from stakeholders while making sure the plans keep safety front and center. 

“Our Blueprint for a Safer Economy is driven by data and science to keep the risk of COVID-19 transmission low, and this upcoming guidance will be no exception,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a statement. “Given the size and operational complexities of these unique sectors, we are seeking additional input from health, workforce and business stakeholders to finalize this important framework – all leading with science and safety.”

Ghaly’s agency oversees the California Department of Public Health, which was expected to issue theme park guidance this week, though it’s unclear if that timeline will hold. 

Meanwhile, the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that Walt Disney Co. chairman Bob Iger has quit Newsom’s economic recovery task force, though the timing and reasoning weren’t disclosed. Walt Disney Co. and Disney’s park division announced Tuesday, they were laying off 28,000 employees in California and Florida. 

Guerrero told USA TODAY last month that California theme park operators have crafted detailed plans to reopen that include capacity reductions, face-covering requirements, robust health and safety protocols for guests and employees and modifications to support social distancing.

Disneyland was originally slated to reopen July 17, a week after Disney World, but that plan was scuttled after coronavirus cases began spiking in California, labor groups argued it was too soon to reopen and California theme parks waited for state guidance. 

But Disneyland, which has learned from the reopening of Disney World in Florida and its other parks around the world, and other California parks have indicated they’re ready to reopen as soon as they get the green light from the state. 

“As soon as a date and those guidelines are set, I can tell you, we’re ready,” Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney’s parks, products and experiences unit, said in an interview with Roger Dow,CEO of the U.S. Travel Association trade group in late August. 

Contributing: Rasha Ali, Jayme Deerwester

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