Theme Parks’ Response to COVID-19

A case by case basis for reopening parks

Theme parks are a place of liveliness, entertainment and attractions. This has been missed throughout the months of the COVID-19 lockdown. However, some states have begun reopening their parks to the public. Per state regulations, however, some theme parks are more open than others.  In our home state of California, no parks are open, save the downtown shopping areas. Among the many reasons for this is the concern that our theme parks draw tourists from outside the United States and thus increase the risk of COVID infection. Some individuals claim that the statistics, however, do not support this argument.  

At first glance, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaley confirms that the state is dividing the theme parks into two categories: parks that can accommodate less than 15,000 people will be allowed to reopen with 25% capacity when the counties these theme parks reside in enter the third (moderate risk) tier. The theme parks that can accommodate over 15,000 and above will need to wait until their counties reach tier 4 (minimal risk). The theme park representatives are pushing back against state officials, claiming that the statistics used to create the tier system are biased or based on unfounded science.  

Other representatives, such as Karen Irwin, the president and chief operating officer of Universal Studios Hollywood, have advanced a different claim. While the state is tentatively making a form of compromise by allowing some parks to open to local residents only, she argues that this is not a concession at all: it is  primarily where the income is generated for each park. She went on to state that a review of parks already reopened will show that the current attendance is primarily local, and we will not see a return to the cross-country/international travel for at least a year or more. 

If the state would look at what is working across the country, it should see what is possible in California. Florida has opened their theme parks at a limited capacity. Walt Disney World, for example, is operating at 25% capacity and  is met with visitors on a daily, consistent basis. The park is being cautious, with guests required to wear masks, social distance and use complimentary hand sanitizer. People are happily taking videos and sharing their photos on social media. Slowly but surely, executives are planning to bring more people into the park. Their official Twitter account recently announced that they will indeed be offering Christmas merchandise like themed face masks available for purchase in the near future.  

Universal Studios Florida has also reopened. The park is operating at a smaller capacity, yes, and with limited attractions open, but guests are attending in waves. The park has implemented standard COVID preventative measures to ensure public safety, distributing items such as social distancing circle guides. During the Halloween season, the park had its normal haunted house attractions up until November 1. 

Governor Newsom has already given the California Theme Parks Representatives what guidelines should be followed for them to reopen, and they are all doing everything possible to continue moving forward. Since the process is on a county-by-county, statistical basis, it might be a slower process than they have anticipated. We can all hope, however, to enjoy some of our missing pastimes soon

Authors: Dani Mercado|A & E Editor and Janelle Fontaine| Opinions Editor

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