Disneyland won’t be able to reopen anytime soon during the coronavirus pandemic after state officials unveiled new guidelines today, requiring counties to severely reduce transmission rates before the theme parks can open.
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“We are waiting until Tier Four — that’s the Yellow Tier, with the limited capacity of 25 percent. All theme parks are going to be required to implement an advanced ticket sale system … they’ll have the ability then to screen guests for symptoms,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, at a Tuesday news conference.
Ghaly said he and other state public health officials are concerned about tourists staying at hotels and eating at restaurants near theme parks, which can spread the virus.
“There could be a significant impact on surrounding sectors,” Ghaly said. “People may keep their guard up in the theme park, but when they’re in the community they might just be mulling around” and let their guard down.
OC is in the Red Tier, meaning churches, gyms, restaurants, malls, movie theaters as a host of other retailers can operate indoor business activities, but have to limit the number of people inside according to industry guidelines.
A move to the Orange Tier would let more people inside businesses and give bowling alleys a green light to reopen. It would also mean bars could reopen for outdoor service, although many around North County are already open.
Yellow Tier is the least restrictive tier, which allows for nearly everything to reopen if there’s state guidelines issued, but many industries will still have to limit their operations.
Orange County health officer Dr. Clayton Chau said he doesn’t expect OC to reach the Yellow Tier anytime soon.
“Personally I think we can look forward to a yellow tier by next summer,” Chau told county Supervisors at Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting.
Meanwhile, Orange County Supervisors continued to rail against the new health equity metric, which requires counties to lower the testing positivity rate to less than 5.2 percent. The metric — along with new daily average cases per 100,000 cases — is holding OC back from entering the Orange Tier.
“So health equity is the [real] problem right now,” Supervisor Chairwoman Michelle Steel said at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I got a text from Disney this morning, they are really devastated that they’re not really going to open,” she said.
Steel also questioned the scientific reasoning for the health equity metric.
“Where is the scientific base here?” she asked. “I am very frustrated at the Governor and the state on why they are not showing us the proof and scientific base … it’s just random numbers throwing at us and it’s very hard to open these businesses. That’s the only reason I’m talking about it.”
Earlier this month, the acting state health officer, Dr. Erica Pan, said the health equity metric is to help stabilize transmission rates in places where a majority of residents don’t have the option of working from home.
“It looks at communities where we’re seeing the most disease transmission,” Pan said at an Oct. 6 news conference. “Workers who don’t have a choice to work from home… if the county is going to move forward, their test positivity has to match the next least restrictive tier.”
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said OC’s hospitals haven’t been overwhelmed by some recent case bumps.
“There’s no correlation between the case counts increasing and overwhelming our hospital system because we still have the capacity in our hospital system,” Bartlett said at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We’re going to be stuck in the Red Tier for an extended period of time and we’ve got to reopen our economy,” she said.
But Ghaly said state public health officials don’t want to do that because the front-end approach on lowering testing and transmission rates is better because it gives a more accurate picture of where counties are heading.
“We know that if the case numbers themselves are going up, we can predict that in three to four weeks we’re going to see an increase in hospitalizations as well,” Ghaly said. “It gives us a much clearer view of what hospitals will be down the road.”
Since the pandemic began in March, the virus has killed 1,412 county residents out of 57,373 confirmed cases, according to the county Health Care Agency.
For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, according to state health data. According to those same statistics, the flu kills about 543 OC residents annually.
As of Tuesday, 168 people are hospitalized for the virus, including 63 in intensive care units.
Over 1 million tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people. Some people, like doctors and nurses, get tested numerous times.
Meanwhile, Ghaly said he expects hospitalizations around the state to increase 46 percent in about a month.
Outdoor professional sports stadiums can also bring fans back in Tier Three at 20 percent capacity and can bump to 25 percent capacity in Tier Four.
That means Angel Stadium can reopen with 20 percent of seats filled if OC moves into the Orange Tier, but not the Honda Center.
Although Angel Stadium reopening likely won’t boost Anaheim’s tax base because it barely made Anaheim any money before the pandemic.
And Ghaly said youth sports guidelines aren’t ready yet, but will be out soon.
Some families have been driving their kids to Arizona to play in leagues as California public health officials hammer out youth sports guidelines.
“We’re very interested in that. Stay tuned, it’s something we’re working on now,” Ghaly said. everything from pony and little league to indoor basketball to swimming. So each of them has their own independent story and we’re working hard to get it out.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data: