Orange County Upgrade: Progress for Disneyland Reopening?

We have a positive development for the reopening timeline of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, as Governor Gavin Newsom announced that Orange County has been upgraded to the red tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, allowing more businesses to reopen and at higher capacities. In this post, we’ll take a look at what that means in practice, the progress made by OC, what Newsom said about theme parks, and more.

By way of recap, California’s new system for reopening is a four-tier, color coded classification that was recently introduced to replace the previous watch list approach. Rather than the statewide “all or nothing” system, this will allow for partial openings in areas where transmission rates and numbers are lower. These tiers are re-evaluated every Tuesday, with counties moving up or down based upon their progress or regression.

When the new tiers were rolled out, Orange County landed in the most restrictive purple or “widespread” tier, due to its positivity numbers from the previous few weeks. Now, it joins San Diego County in the red tier. (Unfortunately, Los Angeles County will not be moving up anytime soon, as its positivity and case rates remain too high. Sorry, Universal Studios Hollywood fans!) Here’s what that means in practice for visitors to Southern California…

Under California’s new plan, counties are placed into four color-coded tiers based on positivity rates and cases per 100,000 residents in their communities. Counties must show forward progress for two consecutive weeks and remain in a tier for at least 21 days 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

This is how the color codes will impact 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

The good news is that Orange County now moves into the red/substantial tier after initially being placed in the purple/widespread tier when this new system debuted a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s a look at current data from California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy:

Orange County has been seeing swift progress in the last several weeks and only landed in the purple tier originally because it had just moved down under the previous watch list system, and thus needed to maintain its lower levels for two more weeks before officially being dropped down into the red tier. Orange County can expect to move to the even more relaxed orange tier for “moderate” risk before the end of September.

The county is already really close, with a qualifying positivity rate and a new daily case rate that’s only 1.0 away from qualifying. If current downward trends hold and there’s no post-Labor Day spike, Orange County will also hit that metric within the next week. However, due to the aforementioned 21 day tier requirement, the earliest that can happen will be September 29, 2020.

Orange County health officials have cautioned against being overly optimistic that this will happen without continued diligence, adherence to health safety recommendations, mitigation measures by Californians. Unfortunately, case numbers may trend upward once again.

This is due to Labor Day weekend gatherings, which could cause another wave of cases in the next few weeks similar to the one in June that followed Memorial Day gatherings and the first round of business reopenings. On a more optimistic note, following that false start, there was not a pronounced spike caused by Independence Day. Here’s hoping the same is true for post-Labor Day numbers.

In addition to these four tiers that are determined by those two metrics, California also has a Blueprint Activity and Business Tiers that dictates when certain types of businesses can open. In addition to entries for restaurants and malls (among other things), this also has “museums, zoos, and aquariums” as a sector.

In red counties, the ‘museums, zoos, and aquariums’ sector can open their indoor operations at 25% capacity. Moderate or orange tier 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.

We mention this because there is not a separate category for theme parks (unless there’s another document and we missed it–which wouldn’t be surprising as this is quite convoluted), and that or “family entertainment centers” would be the closest matches.

If Disneyland and Disney California Adventure were to fall under the same guidance as issued for family entertainment centers, the parks wouldn’t be able to open indoor operations until Orange County hits the orange tier.

Recognizing the disparate treatment, some local theme parks have adapted to resume operations as a different category of business. For example, Knott’s Berry Farm has been offering the new foodie event, Taste of Knott’s, which is either outdoor dining or a mall (or both).

Most likely, Disney and California are going to reach a mutual agreement as to when the parks can reopen. Governor Newsom has been asked about this repeatedly in his press briefings, with his most recent statement being that California is “getting closer” to issuing guidelines for theme parks.

Within the last week, Governor Newsom has met with leaders from Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, and other parks and there have been rumblings that those have been fruitful. Of course, just because California issues guidelines doesn’t mean Disneyland will qualify immediately–or will want/be able to resume operations right away.

We address that at length and offer a predicted reopening date in When Will Disneyland Reopen? Suffice to say, now that Orange County’s risk level has been downgraded, we expect an official announcement from Disney within the next week about a reopening date.

Ultimately, good news for locals and those considering a visit to Disneyland Resort in October or beyond. While this slower process has had its share of critics, we’re hopeful that this slow and methodical economic reopening after a false start earlier this summer proves fruitful, positioning Disneyland–and the rest of California–to continue its steady recovery without regression or any sort of subsequent spikes.

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 Orange County’s upgrade 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? Confused by California’s four-tier system? Any thoughts about Newsom’s statements on theme park progress and meeting with their 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.

14 Responses to “Orange County Upgrade: Progress for Disneyland Reopening?”
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