Disneyland says it's closing its California parks starting Saturday
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Disneyland will close its doors for the rest of the month, an extraordinary decision mirrored throughout California by companies big and small after Gov. Gavin Newsom's call for any nonessential gatherings of 250 people or more to be canceled to help stop the rapid spread of the new coronavirus.
Newsom issued an executive order late Wednesday recommending the closures extend through March, and about 12 hours later at a news conference he said it was likely they would stretch into April. Newsom said he was not ordering the closures but expected compliance.
A short time later Walt Disney Co. announced Disneyland and Disney California Adventure would close starting Saturday because it was in the best interest of guests and employees.
"Disney made the right call," Newsom said. Universal Studios Hollywood also fell in line, announcing it would close for two weeks starting Saturday.
Major League Baseball said it would delay the start of its season by at least two weeks. The move canceled home openers scheduled March 26 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics.
The NBA and NHL also have suspended their seasons, and the NCAA men's and women's March Madness basketball tournaments were canceled. Those decisions, along with myriad cancellations involving concerts, theater performances, parades, conventions and even weddings will have a major impact on California.
The state's economy has been growing for nearly 10 years, the longest economic expansion on record. But Thursday, UCLA's Anderson Forecast predicted California would begin losing jobs, largely because of effects from the virus on the manufacturing, transportation and tourism industries.
"The growth in those sectors has come to a screeching halt, and in some cases we are beginning to see layoffs," said Jerry Nickelsburg, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast.
State and local leaders were weighing short-term help for small businesses and individuals, with Newsom's executive order eliminating a one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits. In Sacramento, the City Council planned to vote Friday on a $1 million economic relief package that could provide loans to restaurants and other businesses hurting due to coronavirus precautions.
Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, said employers can't count on government help. Businesses must begin planning to reduce expenses if necessary, he said.
"Hope is not a business strategy," Zaremberg said.
California has recorded about 200 coronavirus cases and four deaths. One was a woman in her 90s at an assisted living facility in Sacramento County that has been placed on isolation for two weeks as tests are administered to other residents and staff.
The elderly are particularly vulnerable and authorities want to quickly contain the virus at the facility to avoid a repeat of the rapid spread at a Seattle-area nursing home where at least 25 have died.
Newsom said California has not tested as many people as he would like because some of the state's testing kits were missing certain components. He compared those kits to buying a printer without an ink cartridge.
For a time, Newsom said the state had a backlog of incomplete tests. But that has been resolved. So far, he said the state has tested 1,573 people and has 8,227 other tests kits available.
"We've been very clear with our federal partners (on) the incredible importance of making sure we have all the components of testing," Newsom said, adding the state has increased testing locations to include state labs, university hospitals and private companies.
Newsom warned the number of confirmed cases will rise as testing expands.
Local governments also are making changes aimed at limiting the spread. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti closed City Hall to the public and banned all events or conferences on city-owned properties for more than 50 people. City board and commission meetings will be transitioned to publicly accessible phone or video conference sessions.
"We are entering a critical period," Garcetti warned, urging residents to take steps to protect themselves, loved ones and neighbors. "These are common-sense measures."
But it was business as usual at the state Capitol, where the Legislature met Thursday morning and held various committee meetings throughout the day. One of the few signs of disruption were "do not touch" signs posted on the sculpture of a bear outside the governor's office — lovingly known as "bacteria bear" because of frequent touching by tourists.
"A switch to remote legislating is not an option at this time," state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins told her colleagues. "But we will be taking the next few days to do a hard evaluation of how to proceed within the new public health parameters."
Newsom's executive order on gatherings does not include schools but some districts are moving aggressively on their own. The Elk Grove School District in Sacramento County closed for the week and San Francisco officials announced a three-week closure. The moves affect about 120,000 students.
Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, with 700,000 students, has not detected any cases of the virus in its schools and is weighing its options, Superintendent Austin Beutner said.
"We are planning, as we must do, in the event we need to close a school or many schools, for whatever period of time might come," Beutner said.
If schools do close, the district is looking at ways to continue providing services for needy families, including the poor and some who do not have internet access. The district serves more than 1 million meals each day. As many as 17,000 students are homeless.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, the Grand Princess cruise ship was nearing the end of a tedious, days-long process of removing 2,000 passengers after more than 20 people on board had been diagnosed with the virus.
The ship was forced to idle off the California coast for days, quickly becoming a symbol or the virus in the U.S. as anxiety grew with new cases announced almost every day. The ship was initially slated to leave Thursday, but California will allow it to remain through Sunday, Newsom said.
Associated Press writers Cuneyt Dil and Don Thompson in Sacramento, Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco, Michael R. Blood and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this story.