California Bans Large Gatherings, Disneyland to Close Amid Virus Fears

(CN) – Even as California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a ban Thursday on large events of more than 250 people to curb exposure to the coronavirus – with an exemption for theme parks, casinos and movie theaters – Disneyland said it will voluntarily close its resort through the end of March.

At a press conference Thursday, Newsom clarified the new California Department of Public Health policy he announced Wednesday night advising against large public gatherings did not apply to Disneyland in Southern California or casinos or movie theaters throughout the state.

The policy was codified in an executive order signed by Newsom Thursday advising residents to “heed any orders and guidance of state and local public health officials” regarding social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Newsom said the ban on large events would remain effective through March, though he expected it would likely be extended.

On Thursday, Disneyland Resort noted that while there have been no COVID-19 cases at the theme park, in light of Newsom’s order “and in the best interests of our guests and employees, we are proceeding with the closure of Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park beginning the morning of March 14 through the end of the month.”

The resorts hotels will remain open until March 16 to give guests a chance to make other arrangements. The company said it will continue to pay its employees during the closure.

As of Thursday, 198 Californians had tested positive for coronavirus, an increase of 21 cases – up 10% from Wednesday, Newsom said.

There have been four deaths from coronavirus in the state, with the latest confirmed Wednesday in Los Angeles County, he added.

More than 8,200 tests are available Newsom said, though he expressed concerns over COVID-19 tests not containing all the components and chemicals needed to be performed at a single lab. This means tests must be sent across the state for completion, contributing to delays in confirming results.

So far 1,575 tests have been completed, Newsom said.

Newsom said “the complexity of their unique circumstances” required additional conversations with state officials later in the day before the state’s theme parks could potentially be included in the large gathering ban.

When asked by a reporter why Disneyland was more complex than music festivals and sporting events that had been canceled, Newsom called the theme park “a nation state, a campus environment.”

He said Disneyland was employing social distancing protocols including staggering people in seats on rides and new considerations in ride queues.

When another reporter pressed why casinos were getting a pass, Newsom suggested the exemption could be short-lived.

“We are very soon going to get clarity on this. We are working overtime to tighten up those considerations. We are leaning in; we are not being passive and will not allow people to be separate and above if it puts the people of California at risk,” Newsom said.

The governor said he didn’t expect to have to employ enforcement measures or issue penalties to companies or groups which don’t cancel large events, as he said organizations had volunteered to do it before the policy was announced.

Newsom’s executive order also allows the state to commandeer hotels, motels and medical facilities as potential sites to care for people with coronavirus should hospitals fill-up with patients.

The one-week waiting period to apply for disability or unemployment insurance was also lifted by the executive order.

The state tax filing deadline was also delayed 60 days for individuals and businesses unable to file on time due to the pandemic.

As for the Grand Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of Oakland, Newsom said the ship would remain in port through Sunday as officials work with embassies of South Korea, Japan and the Philippines to repatriate crew members who remain onboard.

He said only eight of the original 36 passengers hospitalized remain in hospitals.

Schools and courts will remain open, Newsom said, noting they had been designated as “essential.”

He said schools throughout the state’s 58 counties were staggering physical education classes, canceling school assemblies and providing meals inside classrooms.

Newsom pointed out 60% of California’s public school students are on free or reduced-cost meal programs and need to remain in school to receive nutritional meals.

He said he has not been tested for coronavirus as he has no symptoms and that his children are still attending school.

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