As coronavirus trends continue to improve in the Golden State, juggernauts of its economy — theme parks and sports — can reopen and resume in a limited fashion, and only in some counties.
(CN) — California will reopen theme parks and allow outdoor live events as of April 1 for a handful of its 58 counties, state officials announced Friday.
Counties will have to be in the red tier under the state’s blueprint for reopening, meaning they have a weekly average of 4 to 7 new daily Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people. Sixteen counties currently sit in the red tier, including San Francisco, Napa and Santa Clara as well as several less populated counties.
State Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said amusement parks will be able to open at 15% capacity “but with limits like no indoor dining and no indoor rides, and no visitors outside of California.”
Ghaly added indoor rides will be permitted as long as most of the ride is an isolated experience.
“The idea is that you have as much of the indoor ride as possible happening outdoors, so queuing up outdoors and making sure the shortened ride indoors with a lot of distance between groups is maintained,” he said.
Parks will be allowed to offer outdoor dining “subject to distancing and other protocols that are required at other restaurants,” said Dee Dee Myers, senior economic adviser to Governor Gavin Newsom. She also stressed the limits that would be placed on indoor rides.
“There are going to be limits on indoor rides. There will be a building capacity limit and as we know most indoor rides are relatively short so that’s helpful, and don’t require people to be indoors other than on the ride, and the carts are quite distanced during the course of the ride,” Myers said.
Outdoor venues will be expected to try to curb visitors from outside of California.
“We have been in conversations with operators and others across the state and we determined that through some restrictions around how ticket sales are handled, we can really target who is able to buy certain tickets to the state of California,” Myers said.
Of course, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility that some will find creative ways around this rule.
“People will sometimes find their way around rules and guidance. It is our hope that people will respect the guidance, and it’s our expectation that parks will work to encourage people from California to come and others not to come until we get to a tier where that’s allowed,” Myers said.
Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort has been open since July 2020, raising questions as to why Disneyland has remained largely closed for the last year.
California’s cautious reopening also starkly contrasts with that of Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott announced earlier this week that he would allow all businesses to fully reopen and lift the statewide mask mandate.
Ghaly said the “slow and steady” approach is based on vaccination rates and the decline in new cases across the state.
Outdoor sporting events like Major League Baseball games can also resume April 1 in red-tier counties, but at 20% capacity.
Capacity limits will be gradually lifted for outdoor events and theme parks as cases decline and counties move to the less restrictive orange and yellow tiers.
Theme parks can operate at 35% capacity in the yellow tier. The capacity limit will increase to 67% for outdoor sports and live performance venues in the yellow tier.
Ghaly and Myers said they have no guidance as of yet on when indoor businesses can reopen.
“We’re still moving cautiously,” Myers said.
Vaccine distribution will drive loosening restrictions, but Ghaly said summer is an optimistic target for dropping the tier system altogether.
“We hope and expect that there will be a day when we can turn the page on the blueprint and move toward a new and slightly different normal where some of the restrictions of the blueprint are not there,” he said. “We certainly hope that summer is that target.”
While the vaccine prevents severe disease, hospitalization, and death, Ghaly said they are “still being studied over their ability to reduce transmission.”
As of Friday, California has administered over 10 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.
According to the state’s epidemologist, 3 million residents have now been fully vaccinated including 23% of people over the age of 65. After a slow start, Dr. Erica Pan said California’s pace of vaccinations continues to pick up just in time for the expected delivery of Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved version.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is really getting brighter,” Pan said during a California Community Vaccine Advisory Committee meeting. “We’ve just really come such a long way.”
While the state expects to receive an initial allotment of 300,000 doses of the J&J vaccine, Pan said California’s three-week supply from the federal government remains flat.