When Will Disneyland Realistically Reopen Now?
Bear with me for a moment. I had a college professor who allowed one absence per semester. Anything more than that meant failure.
This insane gentleman also didn’t give A’s to deserving students unless they met him in his office and took a special quiz to prove subject matter mastery.
I got an A- because I misunderstood the hidden intent of a question, and I’m still bitter about it. The dude griped at me for five minutes about a poorly worded question.
I’m thinking about that professor a lot today now that California’s government has revealed its guidelines for theme park reopenings.
When will Disneyland reopen? The answer is apparently when the park passes an impossible test. Let me explain.
What’s Going On
October 20th should have counted as a day of celebration for Disney fans.
California officials finally ceded to local political pressure and announced their Coronavirus-era rules for theme parks.
Unfortunately, the situation feels eerily similar to my weird professor, as the guidelines stack the deck against Disney to a ridiculous degree.
Folks, I’ll spend 1,000 more words explaining why, but the gist is simple. California’s elected and health officials do NOT want Disneyland in business.
As a reminder, Disney spent the last few weeks waging a public relations war against California’s governor.
The company went so far as to announce layoffs while also hinting that some cast members wouldn’t lose their jobs if Disneyland reopened quickly.
I won’t speculate whether this approach burned any bridges or salted the earth, but California sure seems to have retaliated…or erred on the side of caution.
California’s COVID Concerns
Let’s start with some data that shows some caution seems justifiable.
Coronavirus has afflicted Californians more than any other state save for arguably Texas.
California alone would finish in the top 10 in infections if it were a country.
The Golden State has more total cases than Britain or South Africa! That’s…not great.
California also suffers from overcrowding issues in heavily populated regions.
An outbreak could quickly spread to thousands of people, which has happened already. Here’s an explanation from a professor:
Normal flu compared to coronavirus in one minute… pic.twitter.com/1Brbya8Fy0
— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) October 18, 2020
Now, I have a friend who literally is a brain doctor who told me the flu math is slightly off, but it’s only by a bit.
So, the overriding point stands. COVID-19 is incredibly viral. If you get it, you could feasibly infect thousands of people.
An elected official or any sort of leader should protect the public’s safety as much as possible. And that’s why we’re witnessing face-covering rules and safety measures.
It’s no different from stopping people from yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theater.
Coronavirus threatens public safety, which explains why hundreds of thousands of people have died.
What Just Happened
Earlier this year, most Coronavirus discussions centered on flattening the curve.
Unfortunately, that mostly hasn’t happened in America. That’s why we have 10 percent more cases than any other country. And again, California got hit the hardest.
The governor doesn’t want his state to experience additional outbreaks, and the science supports the notion that theme parks do have some risk.
Now, Disney can negate that risk via safety practices like the ones we’ve discussed time and time again.
Disney believes – and has data to support – that it can operate a theme park successfully. It’s done so at Walt Disney World.
However, the governor fears that Disneyland, a more congested park, will require additional safeguards and still provide higher risks.
That’s the logic in play here, but it’s inconsistent. Let me explain why.
California’s reopening guidelines have arrived. And they create an uneven playing field for theme park operators.
Smaller parks can return more easily than larger establishments. So, the rules in place primarily apply to two theme parks – Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland Resort.
These parks must wait until California’s viral numbers qualify as significantly safer than they are right now. Let me explain why.
Understanding the Tiers
Smaller theme parks aren’t any happier than Disney.
There’s a second criteria that involves an almost wholly uncontrollable factor, and it hurts everybody in the business.
California health officials have created tiers for the four levels of Coronavirus danger. Tier 1, the Purple tier, means that the outbreak level is high.
The other three tiers are Red (Tier 2), Orange (Tier 3), and Yellow (Tier 4). Disney officials had expected to reopen during Tier 3.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Only smaller parks, those under 15,000 daily visitors, may return in the Orange phase.
Disney and Universal must wait until the Yellow phase, Tier 4.
The smaller parks must limit attendance to 25 percent of maximum capacity or 500 guests, whichever is lower.
A concert hall would struggle to turn a profit with 500 paying customers, much less a theme park.
Still, some California theme parks, smaller ones in counties with low infection totals, could return as soon as early November.
For the longest time now, I’ve expected Disneyland to reopen during the fall of 2020. I was wrong.
When Will Disneyland Return?
Folks, Disney’s doubly screwed. California arbitrarily punishes Disneyland for its scale, ruling that it must wait for Tier 4.
On top of that, Tier 4 seems exceptionally implausible, bordering on impossible at the moment.
Health charts describe the Yellow tier as Minimal, and that’s not an exaggeration.
To qualify for the safest pandemic tier, positive test results must fall beneath the two percent threshold.
Even more significantly, Orange County must register less than one daily case as COVID-positive for every 100,000 (!) people.
How low is that number? If Orange County lists 32 positive cases for the day, Disneyland cannot reopen.
The county’s current positive test rate for October 20th is only 2.9 percent, which is “only” 45 percent higher than required for Tier 4.
By that metric, Orange County isn’t that far away. It’s the other metric that ruins the possibility.
Orange County could list up to 31 cases, and Disneyland could still reopen. The actual number yesterday was…302.
Your heart just fell in your chest, didn’t it? Yeah, we’re not even close on this one.
The one positive that I can offer here involves governmental behavior. Health and elected officials can change their stance at a moment’s notice.
This modification happened in Florida, although most evaluators deem the Sunshine State as the wild west in the Coronavirus battle.
I wouldn’t expect the same in California, at least not for a while. Several theme park operators reacted angrily to the announcement.
It's official. We’ll only be responding to 25% of our tweets until further notice. 💛😏
— Universal Studios Hollywood (@UniStudios) October 20, 2020
People willing to speak on the record have indicated that Disneyland may not open until next summer now.
I’m still not that pessimistic. However, I do think California just ruled that Disneyland won’t return in 2020.
— Disney Parks News (@DisneyParksNews) October 20, 2020
There’s a real chance that the Happiest Place on Earth remains closed for a calendar year.
Feature Image: Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)