Virginia's largest theme parks won't be getting a reprieve from the state's coronavirus restrictions and do not plan to reopen when Phase Three begins on Wednesday.
Kings Dominion in Doswell and Busch Gardens and Water Country USA near Williamsburg said this week that it is not financially feasible for them to reopen with a capacity limit of 1,000 people, the Phase Three maximum for amusement parks and other entertainment venues.
“Kings Dominion is disappointed to hear as part of the Phase 3 announcement that the restrictions applied to smaller indoor attractions and venues are being improperly applied to large amusement parks, such as Kings Dominion,” said spokeswoman Maggie Sellers in a statement. “Although we respect the decisions of our state officials, the restriction of limiting our park to just 1,000 guests does not reflect the large volume of space available to accommodate recommended social distancing protocols, and essentially suggests the state will only allow us to have five people per operating acre.”
A Busch Gardens executive said essentially the same thing during a meeting of the James City County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Asked during news conference Thursday about possibly waiving the 1,000 capacity limit for the theme parks, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said that would not happen during Phase Three.
"We have to be cognizant of the fact that there are so many contacts at these amusement parks – people touching different things," he said. He noted that state officials have been in touch with executives from the theme parks and have discussed options with the Virginia Department of Health and the state epidemiologist. "We’re going to continue to follow the numbers … as soon as we feel it’s comfortable that we can move forward safely, we will do that."
Northam noted the surges in COVID-19 cases that have occurred in surrounding states such as North Carolina that reopened faster than Virginia.
"These individuals are the same folks that come and enjoy our amusement parks, so we’ve got to be very careful as we move forward," he said.
He also said he understands the impact of the theme parks on the local and state economies. "These decisions are tough; people have had to make a lot of sacrifices," Northam said. "We’ve had a lot of discussions with the amusement parks. I want them to open up as soon as they can, do it safely and responsibly."
During the news conference, Northam's chief of staff, Clark Mercer, noted that the state has not yet released guidelines for any phases of reopenings beyond Phase Three, but indicated that if the spread of the virus remains under control, restrictions could be eased further.
Northam announced at the end of Thursday's news conference that he would no longer hold regularly scheduled news conferences to discuss the state's response to COVID-19. He began daily news conferences in early March, scaled back to three times a week in late March, and then reduced them further to twice a week in late May. He said that going forward he will hold news conferences when circumstances dictate.