When can Disneyland reopen? The answer comes with a huge asterisk

It seems like the simplest question, but it is one that has vexed fans and operators alike for more than 10 months now: When can Disneyland and other California theme parks reopen?

The simple answer comes with the world’s biggest asterisk: California theme parks can reopen as soon as mid-March.

That would be nearly a year to the day since Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flag Magic Mountain, SeaWorld San Diego, Legoland California and other California theme parks closed in mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now to that asterisk. California theme parks can reopen in six weeks if the counties they reside in can reach the least-restrictive yellow/minimal tier 4 of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. But that is a huge if.

A six-week timeline to reopening Disneyland is merely a best case scenario and highly unlikely. But it does offer the first possible date the park can reopen under state guidelines.

The best estimate at the moment is that California theme parks can reopen in spring or summer under COVID-19 health and safety reopening guidelines issued by the state. But the pandemic has cast aside estimated opening dates many times before.

All but four of California’s 58 counties remain in the most-restrictive purple/widespread tier 1 risk level after exiting the state’s stay-at-home order this week. That puts California theme parks back on the path to reopening — but still as far as they can get from a full return to operations under the state’s color-coded system.

California theme parks will be allowed to reopen on a county by county basis under Newsom’s four-tiered system. At the moment, every major theme park in the state is in a county stuck in the most-restrictive purple tier. Every day a theme park’s county remains stuck in the purple tier pushes a potential reopening date that much further out in the calendar.

State mandates require counties remain in each tier for at least three weeks before moving to a less-restrictive tier. That means every California theme park will have to wait at least three weeks for their county to pass through the red/substantial tier 2 and another three weeks at a minimum to make it through the orange/moderate tier 3 before reaching the yellow/minimal tier 4.

The six-week timeline to reopening California theme parks is far from a certainty. Counties can and have remained mired in a single tier for months during the pandemic without making any progress. There is no telling how long it will take larger counties like Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange to even exit the purple tier and start the six-week countdown toward the least-restrictive yellow tier. And there is nothing to stop a county from slipping backward a tier or becoming hopelessly stuck in a tier during that hypothetical six-week journey.

Then there’s the biggest challenge of all. The California Attractions and Parks Association says the state’s large theme parks could remain closed indefinitely if their counties can’t reach the yellow tier.

The greatest unknown of all: What happens to California theme parks once they reach the yellow tier and have their attendance capped at 25%? The state has not announced how Disneyland and other major theme parks can move out of the yellow tier and return to full operations.

Unfortunately, we have about as much certainty now about when Disneyland and other California theme parks can reopen as we did at the beginning of the pandemic.

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