The bill would place large parks like Disneyland and Universal on the same timeline for reopening as smaller parks.
Two Southern California legislators have introduced a bill that seeks to allow large theme parks to reopen sooner.
The bill would place the largest parks, like Disneyland, Magic Mountain and Universal Studios, on the same timeline for reopening as smaller parks.
Right now under the state's color-coded tier system, smaller parks - with a capacity under 15,000 - would reopen when a region reaches the Orange, or moderate tier.
Larger parks would have to wait until the next tier is achieved, Yellow, or minimal cases. Parks like Disneyland have been closed for almost 11 months.
Assembly Bill 420 was introduced by Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares, a Santa Clarita Republican whose district includes Magic Mountain, and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, a Democrat from Orange County whose district borders Disneyland.
They note that other large theme parks around the world, including Disney World in Florida, have reopened without evidence they have contributed to major COVID-19 outbreaks.
They also note that theme parks contribute significantly to the California economy, generating $12.6 billion in direct and indirect revenue to state government and paying $1.5 billion a year in federal, state and local taxes. The assemblywomen say reopening the parks would allow tens of thousands of people to return to work.
Disneyland closed in March 2020, at first as a voluntary safety measure and later remaining closed under state orders that applied to many businesses and activities throughout California.
"I think it can be done safely, and I think not only Disney, Magic Mountain, other theme parks -- they're in the business to move people, to move them safely, and I think that it's the time to move down this pathway," said Quirk-Silva.
The California Attractions and Parks Association, the trade organization representing theme parks in the state, backs the bill. The organization adds the current requirements will keep parks closed indefinitely.
"Worldwide, theme parks have proven they can reopen responsibly while protecting the health of guests and staff," said Erin Guerrero, executive director of the California Attractions and Parks Association. "Science and data show it can be done. California should allow theme parks to reopen responsibly in the Orange - Moderate - Tier 3.
"Nearly a year after parks closed in response to the pandemic, tens of thousands of employees remain out of work, while local businesses, communities surrounding theme parks, and local governments face ongoing negative consequences."
Race to vaccinate
The bill is being introduced as case numbers and hospitalizations from COVID-19 drop from their peaks of early January, but remain higher than the summer surge.
Pressure is increasing on the health system to speed up vaccination distribution as new and more contagious variants of the virus begin to take hold throughout the country.
Scientists in the United States have found more than 500 cases of a newer, more contagious variant of the coronavirus that was first detected in the United Kingdom. They say it has the potential to become the dominant cause of infections in this country in a matter of weeks.
Some U.S. experts say the country has fallen behind in its ability to detect coronavirus mutations.
So far less than 1% of positive specimens in the United States are being sequenced to determine whether they have mutations.
Experts are still studying whether the vaccines currently approved for emergency use are as effective against the other variants.
"A number of them have these mutations that may impact their ability to be neutralized by the antibodies generated from vaccination, so they could impact the performance of the vaccines," said Dr. Benjamin Pinsky with the Stanford Clinical Virology Lab.
One possible boost to nationwide vaccination efforts moved forward Thursday: Johnson & Johnson submitted an application for emergency-use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine that would only require a single dose.
Los Angeles County released its latest case numbers Thursday, adding another 239 deaths from the virus and 5,028 additional cases. That now brings the county's totals to 17,539 deaths and more than 1.13 million cases since the pandemic started. There are nearly 5,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, with 27% of them in the ICU.
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