The Walt Disney Co. announced Wednesday that it will back off a planned reopening of its California theme parks on July 17 after a surge of coronavirus cases in the state.
While the Disneyland reopening is delayed, the company is still moving forward with reopening parks at Walt Disney World in Florida on July 11. Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are set to open first, followed by Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on July 15.
“Given the time required for us to bring thousands of cast members back to work and restart our business, we have no choice but to delay the reopening of our theme parks and resort hotels until we receive approval from government officials," a spokesperson said. “Once we have a clearer understanding of when guidelines will be released, we expect to be able to communicate a reopening date.”
The company said it will wait on updated guidelines from California health officials, which aren’t expected to come until at least after July 4.
The announcement comes as the state of California has seen a spike in coronavirus cases, with this week seeing back-to-back record-setting daily totals of more than 6,000 infections as Los Angeles county becomes an epicenter of the virus, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Disney had mid-July as a target for reopening its U.S. theme parks with the same “enhanced health and safety protocols” that have allowed Shanghai Disney Resort and Hong Kong Disneyland to be operational since early May. But pressure has mounted from Disney employees, along with its various contractors, to delay reopenings.
In a petition from MoveOn.org nearing 10,000 signatures, employees are asking the company to reconsider reopening “until a time when COVID-19 cases are no longer rising and no longer posing risk of spreading this disease to our working cast/team members, their families, and our theme park guests.”
The statement reads that the theme parks in Florida shouldn’t reopen because the “virus is not gone, unfortunately it’s only become worse in this state. Having our theme parks remain closed until cases are steadily decreasing would keep our guests, our employees and their families safe.”
Similarly, workers from the unions that represent Disney parks employees have signed a Change.org petition pushing for a Disneyland reopening at a more appropriate time. That has over 50,000 signatures.
“As you know, Covid-19 cases are rising and have not dropped,” the petitioners wrote. “Many people have lost loved ones due to this pandemic and by reopening the parks they are endangering cast members and guests” by risking further exposure to the virus.
It continues: “There are more cases now than when the parks closed on March 13th” when the outbreak began. “So reopening before the 2nd wave even hits us is irresponsible and greedy. I understand everyone is rejoicing for the reopening of the parks but not during a pandemic where people are DYING, now is not the time.”
Disney has said it is negotiating with its unions to map out a plan for a safe reopening that would involve safety measures like requiring both employees and guests to wear face coverings while at the theme parks.
The company said in an earlier announcement that parades, nighttime shows and character interactions will be “temporarily unavailable.”
In Florida, where a company representative publicly presented a reopening plan for local approval, measures will include temperature checks at park entrances, required face coverings, physical distancing, the suspension of crowd-attracting events like parades and fireworks, hand-sanitizing stations and more contact-free payment.
Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.