New California Reopening Tiers: Disneyland’s Hope for Halloween

In a significant development for the reopening timeline of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, Governor Gavin Newsom held a press conference today and announced California’s sweeping new plans for reopening businesses in the state. In this post, we’ll take a look at the new tiers, what Newsom said about Disneyland Resort, and more.

The big takeaway is that California is moving away from the watch list of tracking trends and moving to a four-tier, color coded classification. Rather than the statewide “all or nothing” system, this will allow for partial openings in areas where transmission rates and numbers are lower.

Under the plan unveiled by Governor Newsom, California’s counties will be placed into four color-coded tiers – purple, red, orange and yellow – based on positivity rates and cases per 100,000 residents in their communities. At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least 3 weeks before moving forward. Restrictions on business operations and activities will be eased as these levels drop…

Here are California’s four tiers:

  • Widespread (purple): More than 7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents or higher than 8% positivity rate
  • Substantial (red): 4 to 7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents or 5% to 8% positivity
  • Moderate (orange): 1 to 3.9 daily new cases per 100,000 or 2% to 4.9% positivity
  • Minimal (yellow): Less than 1 daily new case per 100,000 or less than 2% positivity

Here’s how the color codes will affect counties’ reopening plans:

  • Widespread (purple): Most non-essential indoor business operations are closed
  • Substantial (red): Some non-essential indoor businesses closed
  • Moderate (orange): Some indoor business operations open with modifications
  • Minimal (yellow): Most indoor business operations open with modifications

Thirty-eight counties in California, encompassing 87% of the population, fall into the widespread restrictive tier, where indoor operations for nonessential businesses largely must be closed. This includes Orange County where Disneyland is located, as well as adjacent Los Angeles County.

The good news is that Orange County is really close to being in the red tier. Here’s a look at current data from California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy:

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly explained how that would work in practice for various businesses, using museums, zoos & aquariums as an example. This is useful because, essentially, a theme park is essentially a hybrid of the three, with a mix of indoor and outdoor operations.

In a county falling into the purple tier, those businesses would only be allowed to open for outdoor visits. In red counties, those same businesses could also open their indoor operations at 25% capacity. Orange counties could do the same, but at 50% capacity. For the counties in the yellow category, museums, zoos & aquariums would be able to fully open indoors with physical distancing and face covering rules.

When asked about Disneyland, Newsom referred generally to all theme and amusement park operators and said, “we are working with them. We set our discussions aside on that, but they are forthcoming. It’s a very dynamic conversation and we didn’t include it in the update today; it’s a separate conversation.

“It’s an easier one to have, frankly, with some of the larger ones. We’re trying to accommodate for some of the other amusement activities in the state. You’ll be getting that as soon as we work through that. One of my afternoon meetings is in this space, and we’re actively looking to see where we land on that.”

It appears that Orange County is in the purple tier because it just moved down over the weekend under the previous watch list system and thus, presumably, needs to maintain its current levels for another couple of weeks before officially being dropped down into the red tier.

The good news is that Orange County has steadily been trending in the right direction for the last couple of weeks (setting aside a hiccup with a data processing backlog), and is already making progress towards the next tier. Once reached, this would theoretically allow Disneyland and Disney California Adventure to resume operations at half capacity–a number Walt Disney World has (by its own choice) not yet hit.

This all bodes very well for the reopening of Disneyland, which could occur as early as mid-September if Orange County’s current trends hold. Before we get ahead of ourselves, keep in mind that this also requires a few other things.

First, the state of California needs to sign off on theme parks resuming operations. As noted above, that’s a separate conversation beyond this tier system. Second, Disneyland and its unions need to reach an agreement for Cast Members to return to work. There were some issues on this front just prior to the last reopening, and those will have to be resolved.

Finally, it requires that Disney wants to reopen Disneyland and DCA on as prompt of a timeline as possible. It would be understandable for Disney to take a more tentative approach in California, especially after the state forced Disney to scrap the original reopening plans at the last minute. It’s likely that Disney will seek some degree of assurances from California that once the parks are open, they’re open.

Reopening in mid-September only to re-close in November would be counter-productive and is likely something Disney will seek to avoid. As such, we wouldn’t be surprised if Disneyland takes a more cautious course of action here, delaying even scheduling a reopening date until confident that Orange County has things under control and isn’t going to have a second wave. Only time will tell what approach Disneyland chooses, but it now seems like there’s at least a 50/50 shot they’ll be open for at least part of the Halloween season, something that was unlikely as of yesterday. We’ll take it, and consider this a sign for optimism!

If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!


Think California’s new four-tier reopening plan bodes well for Disneyland’s reopening plans? Do you expect Disneyland and DCA to be open in time for Halloween? Optimistic about Orange County’s numbers? Any thoughts about Newsom’s meeting with theme and amusement park leaders? Any questions we can help you answer? Keep comments respectful, apolitical, and on topic. Anything not following these requirements will be removed, as will excessive back and forth arguments.

15 Responses to “New California Reopening Tiers: Disneyland’s Hope for Halloween”
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