California on Friday paved the way for Disneyland, other theme parks and outdoor stadiums to welcome guests back sooner than expected as it relaxed reopening criteria following a sharp decline in Covid-19 cases and pressure from operators.
The move announced by the state health department will permit ballparks, stadiums and mega-attractions including Disneyland, Magic Mountain and Universal Studios to admit visitors from April 1, according to conditions in their county, and at reduced capacities.
With these improvements, "California can begin gradually and safely bringing back more activities, especially those that occur outdoors and where consistent masking is possible," state health secretary Mark Ghaly said in a statement.
Only outdoor activities are affected by the changes, which come as California's governor Gavin Newsom faces mounting pressure and a bid to recall him from office over his handling of the pandemic.
Theme parks will only be allowed to reopen if their county drops below the state's most-restrictive coronavirus "tier," and then initially at 15 percent capacity and for California residents only.
Orange County -- where Disneyland is located -- currently remains in the strictest purple tier, as does neighboring Los Angeles county, where several other major tourist attractions are based.
But criteria for the tiers -- including infection and positivity rates -- have themselves been relaxed in recent days as the Golden State's brutal winter Covid spike rapidly recedes, and as vaccinations ramp up.
Outdoor sports and live performances with fans will be allowed across the state from April 1, though capacity will again be determined by conditions in the state. Capacity will be limited to 100 California residents in the worst-hit areas.
Theme parks in particular had bristled at restrictions they considered too strict, which would have seen them placed among the last to reopen.
While other Disney resorts around the world and in Florida reopened last summer, the California site -- the world's second-most visited theme park -- never did.
'A bit more magic'
Disneyland swiftly welcomed the new measure and pledged to share an official reopening date soon.
"With responsible Disney safety protocols already implemented around the world, we can't wait to welcome our guests back," said the resort's president Ken Potrock in a statement.
The company had to scrap a planned July restart for Disneyland last year following a public row with state officials over safety guidelines, and partly blamed California restrictions for 28,000 job losses in September.
"Our Disney cast members are heartened by this good news today that the Disney parks will be reopening in a month," said Andrea Zinder, president of the major local union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324.
"They have been furloughed or out of a job for a year now and are excited to go back to work to provide Californians with a bit more magic in their lives."
Los Angeles' two baseball teams, the Dodgers and the Angels, also welcomed Friday's development and said ticket information will be released soon.
"Like the governor, we're optimistic that California will continue to make progress in the fight against COVID-19 and that we can safely host fans to start the season," said Dodgers president Stan Kasten.