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Disneyland's closure is devastating local businesses. But some still say the park should not open yet.

"Once we open the theme parks, California is open to the whole world. The date doesn’t matter. What matters is, are we ready to be safe?” said one local union leader.
Virus effect on cities
The Toy Story parking lot is closed at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., on March 17, 2020.Jeff Gritchen / Orange County Register via Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — The spike in coronavirus cases in California has thrown another wrench in Disneyland's reopening plans, leaving businesses, unions, and state officials struggling with when — and how — to best open Orange County's star attraction. With the opening date still up in the air, some Disneyland employees say they are desperate to return to work. Others say they will only go back once Disney can offer what employees say are safer working conditions.

“I applaud Disney for wanting to bring back our jobs and the fact that they were one of the first theme parks to close down during the COVID pandemic, but I want them to come back strong and safe,” said Glynndana Shevlin, who worked at the Disneyland Hotel for 32 years before being furloughed in March.

“I miss work,” Shevlin said. “I miss my coworkers, I miss my guests, I miss the Disney magic."

She's not the only one hoping for Disney's return.

The company had planned to welcome visitors starting July 17, but had to scrap that date indefinitely, pending new state guidelines on reopening.

Businesses that rely heavily on the tourism industry have been gutted by the extended closure of the park, which normally attracts 50,000 visitors a day. Hotels across the street from Disneyland’s main entrance have fenced off their parking lots, and several businesses nearby sit boarded up, with their lights off.

Sheena Aris, manager at Brewberry Cafe, a few blocks from Disneyland, said that between the closures of both Disneyland and the Anaheim convention center, business was tough for a while. Recently, more local residents have been showing up, as Californians started going out.

But despite the importance of Disneyland to the local economy, Aris said she won't visit the park when it reopens.

“I wouldn’t go any time soon until they figure out something out with COVID,” she said, behind a Minnie Mouse mask.

Michelle Duong, manager at nearby Joe’s Italian Ice, said local Disneyland enthusiasts have still been coming by to the shop, and that business has actually picked up.

“They normally go to Disneyland for their happiness — but I guess they come here now,” Duong said.

Duong said she was a Disneyland annual pass holder up until 2019, but would not feel safe going back this year unless drastic steps were taken to ensure the safety of guests. She also thinks Disneyland should remain closed until a vaccine for the coronavirus is developed.

Disney World in Florida, unlike its California counterpart, is forging ahead with reopening. The Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom parks are slated to open on July 11, with the other parks reopening shortly afterwards. The NBA is set to start the basketball season on July 30, with games at Disney World, despite days of record spikes in COVID-19 cases in the Orlando area. NBA players, unlike Disney employees, will receive regular coronavirus testing.

Disneyland’s closure has forced dramatic cuts to the local government of Anaheim, Disneyland’s hometown, which is struggling with a $75 million budget shortfall caused by evaporated tax revenue. The city council was forced to adopt a general fund budget for the next year that slashed expenditures by 20 percent and froze nonessential spending, hiring, and vehicle purchases.

Anaheim councilman Jose Moreno said the coming furloughs and cuts to police, fire, and community service departments were “devastating." Despite the crucial importance of the hotels and sales taxes generated by Disneyland, he acknowledged that he remains wary of opening without proper safety protocols for workers.

“No job is worth putting people at risk,” Moreno said. “In the short term we might be able to open up, but long term, if our workers get sick, they’re going to bring it back to our community. It’s going to shut down in the longer term.”

The Coalition of Resort Labor Unions, a group that represents 17,000 Disney employees, has said the company needs to provide a better plan to keep employees safe when the park eventually reopens. The unions want Disney to conduct frequent coronavirus testing on-site and provide more detailed plans for cleaning and sanitation, including electrostatic sprayers for hotel housekeepers such as Shevlin.

Austin Lynch, negotiator for UNITE-HERE Local 11 union, said Disney has demonstrated leadership on protecting employees by extending health insurance and providing one month pay during the furloughs. However, “they’re not there yet on safety, and we cannot compromise on measures that would put our members' lives at risk," Lynch said.

“These parks are a doorway to the world. Once we open theme parks, California is open to the whole world. That’s great, we want to see that, but it’s got to be done safely. As far as we’re concerned, the date doesn’t matter. What matters is, are we ready to be safe?” Lynch said.

In a statement sent to NBC News on Tuesday night, Disneyland officials said that "to date, 20 union affiliates have signed agreements that include health and safety measures such as additional sick pay, reduced park capacity and face coverings for guests and cast members, allowing us to responsibly bring back our cast as soon as possible.”