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Is It Safe To Reopen Theme Parks In California?


Seven months after they shut down due to the coronavirus, California's theme parks remain closed. Today the state outlined guidelines for when they can eventually reopen. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he's in no hurry to reopen theme parks. Today the state's Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly confirmed that when he released a long-awaited plan for theme parks and professional sports.


MARK GHALY: There is a path forward there. We do not know when.

ALLEN: In California, few theme parks, it appears, will be reopening anytime soon. Smaller parks can reopen with limited capacity once their counties reach what the state terms moderate risk level. Larger theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios won't reopen until their counties hit a minimal risk category. In Southern California, no counties are even close. When they do reopen, the parks will have strict capacity limits, mandatory face covering rules and other guidelines currently in place in Florida and other states where they've been operating for months.

In California, as in most of the country, the number of coronavirus cases is once again rising. But Ghaly said he thinks eventually, Orange County - home to Disneyland - can get to the minimal risk category.

GHALY: It will require a lot of vigilance. It will require us to do testing, contact tracing and support isolation.

ALLEN: Ghaly doesn't know if that's possible this year, saying only, I don't have a crystal ball. In the meantime, pressure to allow the theme parks to reopen isn't likely to go away.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Open Disneyland. Gov. Newsom, we want it open now.

ALLEN: Theme park fans rallied this weekend outside Disneyland. That was days after an industry trade group mounted a campaign urging the governor to stop delaying. Last month Disney announced it was laying off some 28,000 workers, mostly at its theme parks. This week unions representing workers at Disneyland sent the governor a letter supporting reopening. Christopher Duarte is the president of Workers United Local 50, representing about 7,800 food service employees.

CHRISTOPHER DUARTE: There's an avenue to reopen the park to guests. It can be done in a safe manner, and that would actually bring our workers back to work.

ALLEN: In Florida, Disney World's four theme parks have been open since July. The director of the health department in the Orlando area, Dr. Raul Pino, says initially, he was concerned about the possibility that reopening parks might spread the disease. But so far, he says, there haven't been any outbreaks associated with them.

RAUL PINO: Crowds can be controlled to a degree, and the parks are very interested in providing a safe environment.

ALLEN: Although the theme parks and officials in some states feel it's safe to reopen, the public may still need coaxing. In Florida, Disney says it's been limiting guests to just 25% of capacity, and tickets and reservations are readily available.

Greg Allen, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.