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Disneyland ends annual passholder program, offers refunds, as resort becomes vaccine site

Disneyland's parking lot is now serving up the coronavirus vaccine to frontline health workers and those aged 65 and up.

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Disneyland California

The original Disneyland has been closed since March 2020.

Corinne Reichert/CNET
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For the first time in its 65-year history, Disneyland in 2020 announced it would close its gates for an entire month. Due to the spread of COVID-19, the iconic California theme park shut down on March 12, 2020 -- and has remained closed. Ever since, we've all been wondering when Disneyland can reopen, and why it hasn't while Disney's other global theme parks have been free to reopen, including Walt Disney World on the opposite coast of the US.

Now Disneyland Resort has opened as a mass vaccine site, with the Toy Story parking lot serving up coronavirus vaccinations starting Jan. 14. Orange County announced its first point-of-dispensing supersite (or "Super POD") on Jan. 11, saying Disneyland Resort had "stepped up" to host mass vaccine distribution.

"Residents in my district have been highly impacted by COVID-19," said Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee. "These Super PODs are absolutely critical in stopping this deadly virus."

For now only people in Phase 1A are permitted access to the vaccine, a group that includes health care workers, law enforcement first responders in high-risk areas and, as of yesterday, those aged 65 and older. They'll be able to book a vaccination appointment at Disneyland through a new app developed with Orange County.

Disneyland sunsets current annual passholder program

Disneyland announced Jan. 14 that it'll be canceling its annual passholder program for now.

"Due to the continued uncertainty of the pandemic and limitations around the reopening of our California theme parks, we will be issuing appropriate refunds for eligible Disneyland Resort Annual Passports and sunsetting the current program," Disneyland President Ken Potrock said in a statement.

Disneyland is "developing new membership offerings" for when it reopens.

So when can Disneyland reopen?

Disneyland initially announced an optimistic reopening date of July 17, its 65th anniversary. But it was forced to backtrack on those plans in late June, when California declined to issue theme park guidance.

"We have no choice but to delay the reopening of our theme parks and resort hotels until we receive approval from government officials," Disney Parks tweeted at the time.

California finally revealed its theme park reopening guidelines on Oct. 20: The state will allow large parks like Disneyland to open only once the county they're in is in the "yellow," or minimal, tier of COVID-19 transmission. That means Orange County must have less than one daily new case of coronavirus per 100,000 people, as well as less than 2% of tests coming back positive.

Orange County has regressed from the red tier to the purple since this announcement. As of Jan. 19, it has 99.7 new cases per day per 100,000 people, with a 16.7% positive rate on test results. Those numbers have risen significantly since the announcement of theme park guidance as coronavirus cases skyrocket across California, so reopening is definitely off the table for now.

Disney protested the strict rules when they were announced, calling them "arbitrary" and "unworkable." Potrock said the company has proved it can open responsibly. "The state of California continues to ignore this fact," he said. "State guidelines will keep us shuttered for the foreseeable future ... irreparably devastating the Anaheim/Southern California community."

But California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said on Oct. 20 that he does "believe that it is possible" for Orange County to reach the yellow tier, pointing out that San Francisco County had already done so. (Since he said this, San Francisco County has regressed from yellow all the way back to purple). Ghaly added that it'll take hard work, constant vigilance, widespread testing and contact tracing.

What will Disneyland look like when it reopens?

Once Disneyland does reopen, park capacity will be limited to 25% and reservations will be required. Plexiglass has already been installed at the park entry points.

Smaller theme parks -- those with a total capacity of 15,000 people or fewer -- are permitted to reopen once their county reaches the orange or "moderate" tier, but they'll be capped at 25% attendance or 500 people, whichever is less. Only outdoor attractions can be open, reservations are required, and only locals can attend.

While we're waiting for the parks to reopen, you can check out some behind-the-scenes magic on the Disney Parks TikTok account, or the Disney Parks YouTube channel.

Downtown Disney and part of California Adventure reopened -- and closed again

The Downtown Disney shopping and dining area reopened six months ago on July 9 in line with California's restaurant and retail opening guidelines. It was followed by the main street area of California Adventure theme park on Nov. 19, including Buena Vista Street and part of the streets branching from there.

But by December, Orange County was subject to strict stay-at-home orders due to ICU capacity falling below 15%. As of Jan. 12, Southern California remains at 0% ICU capacity, with its lockdown extended into January 2021. California Adventure was forced to close down again, with restaurants also closing in Downtown Disney.

While California Adventure was open, it included all stores in Buena Vista Street, as well as dining locations like the Carthay Circle Lounge, Smokejumper's Grill, Award Wieners, Starbucks and churros and popcorn carts. Disney had yet to announce whether it was planning to similarly reopen the shopping and dining locations along Main Street USA inside of Disneyland before the lockdown hit.

Downtown Disney is still open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, but only eateries that offer take-out have been permitted to remain open, as long as guests don't consume the food in the area. Some retail stores remain open. Only the Simba parking lot is available for parking; guests are temperature screened before being permitted entry; hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations are present throughout the area; face masks are mandatory; and there are ground markings for social distancing. Capacity is also restricted.

Why was Disney World allowed to reopen?

Disney was able to reopen the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios way back in July. It was permitted to do so by Florida's less-strict state and local guidelines.

The Orlando Disney parks have social distancing and wellness measures, including temperature screenings, wearing masks, keeping guests six feet apart while lining up for attractions and a guest reservation system to limit capacity. Fireworks have also been suspended.

Disney Springs shopping and dining area reopened on May 20 with limited parking, fewer entrances, temperature screening before entry, masks required, physically distanced lines and barriers, reduced hours, no entertainment and more sanitization and disinfectant. Disney-owned stores and restaurants in Disney Springs began reopening May 27.

Layoffs across the US theme parks business

Vacationers aren't the only ones affected by Disneyland's continuing closure -- Disney announced on Sept. 29 that it would lay off 28,000 US employees, citing reduced capacity at its theme parks due to social distancing requirements, as well as California's "unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen."

In an SEC filing on Nov. 26, Disney revealed it would be laying off an additional 4,000 employees, for 32,000 total.

Disneyland reached an agreement with 11 unions representing its workers as of Oct. 14, according to the Orange County Register, so that it's ready to open immediately as soon as permitted. The California Health and Human Services Agency reportedly sent state health officials to assess Disney World in Florida during the first week of October, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.