As calls to reopen Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm persist, state officials are calling on counties to reduce the coronavirus positivity rates in poor, working-class neighborhoods — many of which surround the Disney resort area.
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State health officials gave specifics yesterday on a new metric they’re measuring counties with a four-tiered reopening guideline system.
“It looks at communities where we’re seeing the most disease transmission,” said the state’s acting Health Officer Dr. Erica Pahn at a Tuesday news conference.
“Workers who don’t have a choice to work from home,” she said. “If the county is going to move forward, their test positivity … has to match the next least restrictive tier.”
State officials are using census data to determine which neighborhoods have the lowest access to health care, income disparities, transportation issues, overcrowded housing and a host of other socioeconomic issues.
According to a state database, many of those neighborhoods are in Anaheim and Santa Ana. There’s also pockets scattered throughout Garden Grove, Buena Park and Stanton.
Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, Disney officials and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) have been pressuring Gov. Gavin Newsom to release theme park reopening guidelines over the past month.
Orange County Health Care Agency Director and Public Health Officer
But at a Wednesday news conference, Newsom said those guidelines won’t be coming out any time soon.
“It’s very complex. These are like small cities, small communities,” Newsom said. “But we don’t anticipate in the immediate term any of these larger theme parks reopening until we see more stability in terms of the data.”
The positivity rate in one zip code next to Disneyland is over 8 percent, according to county Health Care Agency data.
When cases spiked in July, positivity rates in neighborhoods like that were as high as 20 percent.
New cases and positivity rates have since eased, but have shown some increases in recent weeks.
In order for OC to move to the next tier, it’s going to have to bring down the positivity rate in the Disneyland-adjacent neighborhood to less than 5.2 percent.
Numerous zip codes in Santa Ana and a pocket in Tustin far exceed the 5.2 percent positivity threshold also.
State public health officials have averaged those positivity rates at 6.6 percent, more than double the countywide 3.2 percent rate.
“We’re going to be led by a health first framework and we’re going to be stubborn about it,” Newsom said. “While we feel there’s no hurry in putting out guidelines, we’re continuing to work with the industry, with amusement parks.”
He also confirmed Disney’s Executive Chairman Bob Iger quit Newsom’s economic recovery task force.
Newsom said the move “Didn’t come to me as a surprise at all. There were disagreements on opening a major theme park. We’re going to let science and data dictate the decision.”
Meanwhile, OC saw a recent virus case bump that prevented it from moving into the Orange Tier, or Tier Three, last week. The bump prevented bars from reopening for outdoor operations and allowing more people into restaurants, churches, gyms, movie theaters and malls.
At Tuesday’s county supervisors meeting, County health officer Dr. Clayton Chau said he supports Disneyland’s move to reopen.
“In conversations with [California Department of Public Health] and Health Officers from counties that have theme parks, I have advocated for theme parks to be safely reopened in Tier 3 – the Orange Tier,” Chau said in a Wednesday email.
“I believe in looking at the effect of COVID-19 not only on physical health but also on emotional health and economic/financial health of the entire community/population, Ie, supporting work/employments for our citizens of course with safety in mind,” he said.
Since the pandemic started in March, the virus has killed 1,292 people out of 55,042 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.
Hospitalizations saw an increase for the second day in a row.
As of Wednesday, 183 people were hospitalized, including 64 in intensive care units.
Over 911,000 tests have been conducted throughout the county, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people. Some people, like nurses and doctors, get tested numerous times.
At the Anaheim City Council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Sidhu continued his pressure to reopen Disneyland as the city wrestles with a $100 million budget deficit.
Sidhu has also invited Newsom to visit Anaheim.
“I would again hope that the Governor would take us up on our offer to come see us here,” Sidhu said. “Talk to the employees about the concerns … and talk, as well, to the small business owners who are seeing their lives being crushed.”
Councilman Jose Moreno asked Sidhu if he’s reviewed any Disneyland reopening plans.
Sidhu said he hasn’t seen any plans, but said they should be solid because Disney is working with local and state health officials.
“You’re providing your platform to lobby for them to be allowed to be given the guidelines to reopen … at the same time we have data that’s still troubling,” Moreno told Sidhu.
Councilman Trevor O’Neil said there’s been no outbreaks at Disney’s other theme parks.
“Just wanted to point out that we’ve had Disney parks in every other part of the world open up safely. So it has been demonstrated that it’s not a choice between public health and an economy,” O’Neil said.
“The problem is the Governor keeps moving the goalposts and making it harder and harder. It’s time for the Governor to fish or cut bait.”
Moreno questioned if outbreaks would be made public by the county Health Care Agency and said the city should force disclosure.
Agency officials have been keeping secret outbreaks at businesses and schools across the county.
“We have to lead on this. And simply sit back and demand the resort open … is derelict and dangerous and is sad,” Moreno said.
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio