Here's how California's mask mandate change will affect Disneyland, Universal, and more

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Here's how California's mask mandate change will affect Disneyland, Universal, and more

California is getting rid of its indoor mask mandate, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Disneyland and Universal will be maskless. 

Two guests take a selfie at Disneyland Park

Hello hello and welcome back to this week's edition of Theme Park News! We're diving deep into California's changing mask mandates this week to let you know what you can expect from your future theme park vacations to the West Coast. From cruise news to Mardi Gras celebrations, here's what you may have missed this week:

A NEW YEAR AND A NEW MASK UPDATE

As we scoot closer towards the two-year anniversary of everyone's least favorite shared life experience, we are, yet again, reporting in depth about COVID-19. On the East Coast, both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World still have indoor mask mandates, but a shift on the other coast signals that mask policy in California may be changing.

Before we get into that, a disclaimer: COVID-19 is still being widely transmitted across the country. Orange County, Florida is reporting 21.2 percent rolling percentage positivity (14 day average), which is only slightly less than the week prior. (Orange County, California's reported cases are lower due to an issue over the weekend, so we'll recap next week.) And, in Los Angeles County, transmission is still high, recording about 10,000 new cases per day.

Omicron cases are declining in the state of California — a good thing! — but with it comes some rather surprising news. California Governor Gavin Newsom announced yesterday that the state's mask mandate as we know it would expire after Feb. 15. Starting on Feb 16, masks will not be required indoors for vaccinated people throughout the state of California in regions without local mask mandates; unvaccinated people will still be required to mask indoors. (Considering everyone reading this also lived through the same pandemic, you know how well that loophole usually goes.)

If you're wondering where and when you'll have to wear your mask for a forthcoming trip to a California theme or amusement park, the answer is, well, complicated. This announcement affects theme parks statewide in wildly different ways depending on where they are located, as county ordinances supersede state-wide ones. Read on to know what to expect from your future theme park travels...

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park

DISNEYLAND RESORT

We'll start with Disneyland Resort, located in Orange County, California. When the state-wide mask mandate disappears on Feb. 16, Disneyland will be entirely in control of their own mask requirements. Starting next week, Disneyland, Disney California Adventure and the surrounding hotels and experiences will decide for themself when indoor mask requirements will be removed, without enforcement at the state or county level.

If your travels include spending Spring Break in Anaheim, the truth is we don't yet know what might happen. Disney has previously enforced masks at their own discretion and currently do in Florida as well, where indoor masks continue to be required on property. Any news will come directly from the parks themselves, so stay tuned there, here and to my own Twitter and Instagram feeds for any breaking news updates there.)

Universal Studios Hollywood globe fountain structure

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD

The cinematically-inclined theme park is in a unique situation when it comes to mask mandates. Currently, Universal Studios Hollywood offers the most stringent COVID-19 safety protocols of any theme park in the country, with masks required indoors and outdoors throughout the park. Universal Studios Hollywood requires visitors ages 5 and up to show proof of full vaccination or a negative test, which can be either an antigen taken within 24 hours or a PCR test within the past 48 hours; home tests are not allowed. The requirement is in effect depending on theme park attendance, but at this point is executed on most days, due to a recent policy change.

It's all due to Los Angeles County's strict rules that, as of this year, had only gotten stricter. You see, theme parks are categorically deemed "mega events" in Los Angeles County. They previously qualified as such when they had at least 10,000 outdoor attendees, but in January, that got cut in half to 5,000 attendees. Universal Studios Hollywood only had to enforce the vaccine/test proof on select days before, but now with a minimum of 5,000 attendees to hit that threshold, it's practically been a daily requirement.

If you're curious what that means for your upcoming trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, just keep in mind that indoor and outdoor masking requirements and their future removals operate individually going forward.

When COVID-19 hospitalizations drop below a certain threshold, outdoor mask requirements at "mega events" — including Universal Studios Hollywood — will be removed. That post-surge shift is not likely to happen by Feb. 15, but could happen shortly thereafter, as hospitalizations are declining. (The nitty-gritty: LA County needs to have fewer than 2,500 hospitalizations for seven days in a row to qualify; the previous week's hospitalization count was 2,773.)

That doesn't mean Los Angeles is about to be a free-for-all where masks are concerned, as their own county-wide mask mandate will be upheld even as California's state-wide mandate ends. Transmission rates are currently too high to reach the threshold required to even consider removing indoor masking, a sentiment that was further confirmed earlier this week. Following Newsom's announcement on Monday, KPCC's Claudia Peschiutta reported that Los Angeles County will indeed be keeping "stricter local indoor masking rules" in place for vaccinated people, even after the statewide mandate ends next week.

When could indoor masks be removed at Universal Studios Hollywood? According to the Los Angeles Times, the last time we saw transmission levels this high, it took two months for cases to drop to the point needed for indoor mask removal — but that was before vaccines were widely available. Estimating from those statistics, it seems likely that a change could occur in early April, but again, nothing is certain. (Stay tuned for our weekly updates here, where we'll be tracking these numbers.)

OTHER CALIFORNIA PARKS:

As San Diego County doesn't have its own mask mandate, SeaWorld San Diego, LEGOLAND California and others nearby will be able to adjust their mask requirements without state interference starting Feb. 16. Knott's Berry Farm, located in Orange County, will also be in charge of their own mask requirements starting Feb. 16.

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