CA issues guidelines on theme park reopenings, leaving Six Flags closed

Twisted Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain was ranked as the country’s second-best roller coaster of 2018 by the readers of USA TODAY. Photo submitted by Six Flags Magic Mountain

California will not allow Six Flags Magic Mountain and other large theme parks, such as Universal Studios and Disneyland, to reopen until their respective counties enter the least restrictive tier under the state’s metrics, officials announced Tuesday.

The long-awaited guidelines around theme park reopenings amid the COVID-19 pandemic showed that smaller theme parks — those with a capacity of 15,000 or fewer — may resume operations upon reaching the “orange” tier, or counties with a “moderate” spread of the virus, with modifications such as the limited capacity of 25%, and may only open outdoor attractions, according to California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly in a news conference. 

Larger venues, such as the Valencia-based Six Flags theme park, may not reopen until their counties reach the “yellow” tier, or those counties with “minimal” spread of the coronavirus, and with a 25% capacity. 

In a statement  Tuesday, California Attractions and Parks Association officials said calling the guidelines a disappointment “would be a grave understatement.” 

“This plan prolongs unemployment for tens of thousands of people, hastens bankruptcy for families and small business owners adjacent to parks, and contributes to insolvency for local governments whose budgets rely on parks as an anchor economic driver,” said Erin Guerrero, executive director of the association, of which Six Flags is a member.

Theme park officials, including Six Flags Magic Mountain President Don McCoy, are expected to issue remarks regarding the state’s announcement Wednesday during a virtual news conference.

Los Angeles County, as well as Riverside and San Bernardino, remain in the “purple” tier — the most restrictive level as the virus is considered too “widespread.” Though some have expressed concern that larger counties will never reach the “minimal” or “yellow tier,” Ghaly said it is feasible. 

“We are seeing it now that certain larger counties are indeed able to move to yellow and we do believe that it is possible,” he said. “We’ve constructed a system that could allow it. It will require a lot of work, it will require a lot of vigilance and will require us to do testing, contact tracing and support isolation in serious and real ways throughout our communities.” 

Should widespread transmission recur in a county that was in the moderate or minimal tier, a county could move back to a more restrictive tier, which “would have an impact on theme park operations,” said Ghaly. 

Tuesday’s announcement comes after Six Flags officials said they awaited visits from state officials who are reviewing reopening plans. Corporate officials said in a previous statement their reopening plan exceeds city, state and Centers for Disease Control guidelines. 

Ghaly also announced that professional sporting events at outdoor stadiums can resume in the orange tier, at 25% capacity and in the yellow tier at 20% capacity. Limitations include restricting ticket sales to customers within a 120-mile radius, selling only advanced tickets with assigned seats, eating and drinking at seats only and prohibiting tailgating. 

Collegiate sports are not included, he added.

“At this time, we’re really starting with the professional sports venues,” said Ghaly. “We are certainly going to look at the experience here, understanding how to use this new guidance … but at the moment, we don’t have current plans to release guidance for spectators at collegiate or other types of sporting attendance.” 

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