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Disneyland ends annual passholder program as resort becomes vaccine site

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

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Disneyland California

Disneyland, California, has been closed since March 2020.

Corinne Reichert/CNET
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For the first time in its 65-year history, Disneyland 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. So when will the parks reopen, and why haven't they while Disney's other global theme parks, including Walt Disney World on the opposite coast of the US, have?

Instead of a theme park, Disneyland Resort has now become a mass coronavirus vaccine site. The Toy Story parking lot began serving up coronavirus vaccinations on Jan. 14 after Orange County announced its first point-of-dispensing supersite (or "Super POD") on Jan. 11. Disneyland Resort had "stepped up" to host mass vaccine distribution and would be "absolutely critical in stopping this deadly virus," the county said.

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 those aged 65 and older. They'll be able to book a Disneyland vaccination appointment through a new app developed with Orange County.

Disneyland cancels and refunds annual passes

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.

California finally revealed its theme park reopening guidelines on Oct. 20: The state will allow Disneyland to open only once the county it's 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. 26, 2021, it has 61.1 new cases per day per 100,000 people, with a 12.9% positive rate on test results. Those numbers have risen significantly since the announcement of theme park guidance, so reopening is off the table for the foreseeable future.

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, part of California Adventure reopen

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 parts of Hollywood Land.

California Adventure's reopening includes all stores in Buena Vista Street, as well as dining locations like the Carthay Circle Lounge, Smokejumper's Grill, Award Wieners, Starbucks and carts for churros and popcorn. Disney has yet to announce whether it's planning to similarly reopen the shopping and dining locations along Main Street USA inside of Disneyland.

Between December 2020 and January 2021, Orange County was subject to strict stay-at-home orders due to ICU capacity falling below 15%. Restaurants were forced to close in Downtown Disney and California Adventure, but Gov. Newsom lifted the lockdown orders on Jan. 25.

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.