The state of California released the long-awaited theme park reopening guidelines yesterday, which calls into question when large theme parks like the Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood can actually reopen. The guidelines dictate that larger theme parks with capacities of above 15,000 may not reopen until the county in which it resides enters the Yellow “Minimal” tier.
But what does that actually MEAN in terms of a reopening timeline? And how is that timeline affected when you take into consideration what health experts are saying about a rise in cases? We’re breaking it down for you.
When is the EARLIEST Disneyland can reopen?
California has four “tiers” as part of their reopening blueprint, each with a color code that corresponds to the virus’ prevalence in that county. The tiers are Yellow (Minimal), Orange (Moderate), Red (Substantial), and Purple (Widespread). Each county needs to remain in their current tier for three weeks. To advance to the next tier, they must report metrics that meet the next tier’s threshold for two consecutive weeks.
So, for example, a county that is currently in the Red “Substantial” tier must at least remain in the levels of the Red Tier for three weeks, but also produce an adjusted case rate between 1-3.9 per 100,000 residents, a positivity rate between 2-4.9%, AND a Health Equity Metric that is between 2.2-5.2% for two consecutive weeks before they are allowed to advance to the Orange tier.
As of this writing, Orange County, where Disneyland resides, is in the Red “Substantial” tier and has yet to meet the Orange tier thresholds. This means that as of this writing Orange County is still at least three weeks away from entering the Orange tier.
Once Orange County advances to the Orange tier, they must remain in that tier for a minimum of three weeks before advancing to the Yellow “Minimal” tier (which, again, requires two weeks of the Yellow Tier’s requirements being met), which is the tier that Disneyland is allowed to reopen under. Keep in mind, if they move BACK a tier at all in the process, the clock resets and the three-week window per tier starts again!
So, what is the SHORTEST timeline under which Disneyland can reopen? Since Orange County has yet to meet its first week under the Orange tier threshold, it will be a minimum of three weeks from this writing before they could even potentially advance to the Orange tier. And from there, it will be a minimum of three MORE weeks before they could even potentially advance to the Yellow tier.
Once the Yellow Tier is achieved, Disneyland could announce reopening plans. But Disneyland cannot flip a switch and reopen overnight. It will most likely take a couple of weeks at least to call Cast Members back and prepare the parks for reopening. That totals approximately eight to nine weeks MINIMUM (in a perfect world where cases are constantly dwindling and Orange County is actually able to advance tiers) between when Orange County starts to meet the threshold of advancing to the Orange “Moderate tier” and when guests can re-enter Disneyland for the first time since March 13, 2020.
If we were to say Orange County moved full steam ahead into the Orange and subsequent Yellow tiers starting from the day theme park guidelines were released (October 20th), that would result in an ESTIMATED target reopening for Disneyland at early to late December at the absolute EARLIEST. But again, this is in a world where Orange County’s cases allowed them to advance, which hasn’t been the case at all.
Is that a realistic timeline?
In all likelihood, it will take longer for Disneyland to reopen. Many leaders have criticized the state’s reopening guidelines, pointing out that the Yellow tier is an almost impossible metric to achieve without a vaccine.
When it comes to a vaccine becoming readily available and what it could mean for life to return to “normal,” California Governor Newsom noted that we may not reach that point until sometime next year.
In a recent news conference, Newsom stressed that, in terms of when the state can expect normalcy, “the sober reality is, and this is the sober reality, the expectation should not, cannot, be this calendar year. For the overwhelming majority of us to get to where we need to go as a nation, as a state, that will not happen until 2021.”
Dr. Clayton Chau, Director, Orange County Health Care Agency, echoed the sentiment that it could be several more months before the county reaches the Yellow tier. He said in a recent statement, “Personally, I think that we can look forward to a yellow tier by next summer, hopefully.”
A summer 2021 opening would depend on “when the vaccine will come as well as how many doses [are] available for our populations as well as how many of our residents will readily accept the vaccine.” It’s also important to keep in mind that the state’s reopening tiers blueprint is not a one-way street, but rather a sliding scale that is capable of moving in both directions.
Let’s really look at what is being said there: the Director of the Orange County Health Care Agency basically said Disneyland likely won’t reopen until NEXT SUMMER at this rate. That would mean OVER a year of the gates being locked to guests. That’s some heavy stuff.
Click here to read more about Dr. Chau’s remarks about theme parks not being able to reopen until summer 2021.
What happens if cases REALLY start to rise?
While the state of California has seen a drastic decrease in the number of cases, that does not promise that the virus can’t rebound (as we’re already starting to see in some states). As the country heads into its normal flu season and the cooler temperatures move more individuals indoors for activities, many experts worry that positive cases will once again rise.
Looking at California state-wide, cases are not rising per se, but data from the state’s COVID website suggests that there has been a plateauing. Cases in the state had been declining steadily since they peaked in July, but starting around mid-September, the average of total positive cases has hovered around 3,500-4,000 new cases per day.
If cases start to rise in a specific county, it is possible for that county to move BACKWARDS in the reopening tiers. This has already happened to several counties in the state, although, as of this writing, Orange County has yet to move backward. And once a county moves back into a more restrictive tier, the whole process would essentially “start all over” with needed to produce those two weeks of consecutive data to advance in the tiers once again, adding more time to how long folks have to wait to re-enter Disneyland.
Once Orange County reaches the Yellow tier, it is still possible for the county to move backward to the Orange tier and beyond if cases continue to rise. California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly pointed out in a recent news conference that if that happens, it could potentially trigger businesses that were allowed to open under the Yellow tier (like theme parks) to re-close.
Likewise, it’s possible now for Orange County to move backward to the Purple “Widespread” tier before they move to the Orange “Moderate” tier if cases rise high enough. At this time, however, there’s no indication that the county is moving in that direction.
Click here to read the President of Disneyland’s statement in response to California’s reopening guidelines.
As Governor Newsom has repeated several times during his news conferences, the guidelines in an of themselves don’t mean “go.” The “slow and stringent” approach to reopening seems to really be in practice when it comes to the theme park industry, especially in California, and no matter when Disneyland opens, its closure will have been much longer than anyone could have imagined.
In short, it is hard to say at this time when Disneyland will reopen, and even health experts are skeptical about what a realistic projection is. It’s strange to be in a world where Walt Disney World is open and welcoming guests each day yet the original theme park, Disneyland, remains shuttered. Since the guidelines are very much set by each state, businesses are at the mercy of what their representatives deem safe and necessary for its residents. California, it seems, is proceeding EXTRA-cautiously. Since all eyes will be on when Orange County enters the Yellow tier, it’s totally in the realm of possibility that a vaccine will need to be readily available for some time before the gates of Disneyland are open once more. Either way, it seems unless the state changes their rules, we’ll all be waiting quite a while.
As always, we will continue to keep a close eye on all of the news coming out of Disneyland and the state of California, and we will keep YOU up-to-date with all the latest information!
Click here to read the California Attractions and Parks Association’s reaction to the state’s theme park reopening guidelines.
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When do you think the Disneyland Resort will reopen? Let us know in the comments.