By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Officials in California, home to Walt Disney Co's Disneyland, on Tuesday pushed the reopening of large theme parks months down the road, drawing outrage from the industry, which predicted the loss of thousands more jobs.
California Health Secretary Mark Ghaly said theme parks with a capacity of more than 15,000 visitors must wait to resume business until a county's COVID-19 risk level drops to the lowest tier of "minimal" spread.
Under California's four-tier scheme, the lowest tier means daily cases of the coronavirus must number less than one per 100,000.
The decision affects not just Disneyland but Comcast Corp's Universal Studios, Legoland and Knott's Berry Farm, which all closed down in mid-March.
"These State guidelines will keep us shuttered for the foreseeable future," Ken Potrock, the Disneyland resort's president, said in a statement.
Kurt Stocks, president of Legoland California, said the state's actions so far "have cost tens of thousands of jobs across the industry, and today’s announcement will all but confirm that thousands more will be lost."
Disneyland is the only Disney park that remains closed amid the pandemic. The company has reopened resorts in Florida, China, Hong Kong and Tokyo with attendance limits and other safeguards.
Ghaly acknowledged that a reopening date for Disneyland, in Orange County, could be far off. Most Southern California counties are stuck in the top two tiers.
"I don't know when Orange County will enter the yellow (minimal) tier," Ghaly told a news briefing. "We do believe that it is possible. It will require a lot of work, a lot of vigilance," he said, citing strict social distancing, testing and mask use by the general public.
The delay follows months of appeals by Disney executives for the parks to reopen. Disney said in September it was laying off 28,000 employees from its theme parks, and laid part of the blame on California's unwillingness to allow the parks to reopen.
Karen Irwin, president of Universal Studios, said in a statement that the California decision meant the park in Hollywood would be unlikely to reopen until well into 2021.
The California Attractions and Parks Association called the directive a "Keep Theme Parks Closed Indefinitely" plan that would lead to more job losses.
Ghaly announced on Tuesday less restrictive guidelines for smaller theme parks, which will be allowed to open at 25% reduced capacity once the counties in which they are located reach the "moderate" spread level.
He said health officials were concerned about the potential for random mixing at larger theme parks that draw visitors from many areas of the country and have indoor attractions and eating facilities.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)