OAKLAND, Calif. — Disneyland can soon fling open its gates and outdoor concerts will once again play in California under new rules the state released on Friday.
The changes will likely bring dormant theme parks, outdoor sporting events and concert venues back to life in most of the state starting April 1 — just in time for Major League Baseball’s opening day — after a yearlong pandemic hiatus. Until now, the state had prohibited outdoor events with live audiences in most areas.
“With disease rates coming down as they have, with the advent of vaccines and being able to increase the protection across our state through vaccinations, we felt like now was the appropriate time to reintroduce these activities in some fashion,” Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Mark Ghaly said during a press briefing Friday.
The new rules will allow outdoor events to open at limited capacity in counties that are in the red tier, and will allow larger crowds as counties’ case rates fall. Most counties are on track to have progressed to the red tier or beyond by April, thanks to declining case rates and changes unveiled earlier in the week that will allow counties such as Los Angeles and Orange to advance more quickly into the red tier.
Under previous guidance, small theme parks could not start reopening in counties until they reached the second-least restrictive orange tier. And large theme parks like Disneyland weren’t able to open until their counties were in the yellow zone under the old rules.
The reopening momentum comes on the same week Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers approved a bill intended to spur California schools to bring students back. The governor’s administration also agreed to allow youth basketball and other sports to resume indoors as part of a legal settlement, and Newsom’s red tier rule changes will accelerate the opening of indoor gyms and restaurant dining in California.
That has prompted skepticism — not just from Republicans but a leading county official — that Newsom is trying to ward off the recall threat looming over him.
“So he is changing the blueprint rules without any logical reason,” Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith, who is also a physician, said in a Wednesday email to POLITICO. “Our futures are in the hands of a governor trying to stop a recall. He has already killed tens of thousands by opening too soon in May. Now he wants to do it again.”
The background: The opening of larger venues, particularly theme parks, has been contentious, with operators frustrated with their status in the state’s reopening framework and inability to reopen. This has led to layoffs and furloughs in the theme park industry as the parks remained closed.
Professional sports venues have been closed to fans, with a number of teams using cardboard to simulate fans in the audience.
Erin Guerrero, executive director of the California Attractions and Parks Association, called Friday’s announcement "encouraging news."
"Parks now have a framework to safely and responsibly reopen," she said. "We appreciate the administration’s willingness to work with the state’s theme parks on the finer details of the plan so parks can responsibly reopen soon, putting people safely back to work and reinvigorating local economies.”
Outdoor sports and live performances: Fans and attendees will be allowed in the purple tier, but capacity will be limited to 100 people or fewer and only regional visitors will be allowed. Advanced reservations will be required, and concession or concourse sales will be prohibited.
In the red tier, capacity will be limited to 20 percent and concession sales will be limited primarily to those in seats (no concourse sales). In the orange tier, capacity will be allowed to increase to 33 percent and will go up to 67 percent in the yellow tiers. Attendance will be limited to in-state visitors in all tiers, and state officials said they are working the businesses to limit those sales to Californians.
Amusement parks: The parks will be eligible to reopen in the red tier beginning April 1 with capacity limits of 15 percent. In the orange tier, capacity can increase to 25 percent, and then up to 35 percent in the yellow tier. Attendance will also be limited to in-state visitors. Unlike previous guidance, no distinction between the size of the theme park will be made.
What’s next: State officials said more details on potential reopenings and changes to the state’s reopening blueprint will be announced in the coming weeks.