Relaxation of Pandemic Business Restrictions Hinges on Containment of Coronavirus
By Lou Hirsh
Disneyland and other major California theme parks and sports stadiums could reopen as early as April 1 under new guidelines issued by health officials, a move that could bring more business to nearby hotels, restaurants and retail properties that depend on those big-crowd generators.
The revised standards, which came soon than most expected, would allow big venues in the nation’s most populous but hardest-hit state to reopen starting at 15% capacity if their home counties can improve their coronavirus containment statuses to the lower three tiers of the state's four-tier virus tracking system.
The change has implications not only for theme parks including Disneyland Resort in Anaheim and Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, but also stadiums getting set to host the opening of Major League Baseball’s 2021 season in Los Angeles, San Diego and Anaheim. California has banned crowds in any of these venues for nearly a year.
Announcing the change during a media conference call, California Secretary of Health and Human Services Mark Ghaly said those venues can open once their home counties get into the “red” tier, a step down from the state's most restrictive "purple" tier and signifies substantial risk for spread of the coronavirus.
The announcement came largely as a surprise to much of the state. Previously, California health officials had decreed that no theme parks could reopen until their home counties reached one of the two lesser tiers for coronavirus risk — orange or moderate risk for small theme parks, and yellow or minimal risk for large theme parks.
Two-thirds of California’s 58 counties, including almost all of those in Southern California, remain in the most serious purple tier signifying widespread risk for virus spread, though that could change in coming weeks as the largest counties have improved containment and ramped up vaccinations.
Health officials in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties have recently said those regions are close to containment levels warranting the lesser red-tier status, meaning their economies could open up substantially in coming weeks.
“It is very possible that we’ll enter the red tier as early as next week,” said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer during a news briefing March 3.
Industry pressure has been increasing for the past several weeks to reopen the California economy, as theme parks post significant revenue losses and their home cities lose out on tax income and tourism business. Theme parks in other states such as Florida, including Walt Disney World in Orlando, have been operating at partial capacity for the past several months.
“Throughout the pandemic, California’s business community has been committed to protecting the health and safety of workers and customers, and that won’t change now,” said Dee Dee Myers, director of California’s Office of Business and Economic
Development, in a statement Friday. “We will continue to work together with our partners across all sectors of the economy as we reopen safely, sustainably and equitably.”
California health officials have moved San Francisco and six other counties from the most serious purple tier to the less serious red tier, making them eligible to open theme parks and stadiums of all size at up to 15% capacity starting April 1.
Under the newly issued state guidelines, counties can raise that to 25% capacity when entering the orange tier, then 35% when dropping to the lowest-risk yellow tier.
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