Richmond’s “Numbnuts” Cripple Busch Gardens

by Kerry Dougherty

Five more days until Virginia finally enters Phase 3 of the slo-mo reopening of the commonwealth.

But if you were planning to take the kids to Busch Gardens or Kings Dominion to celebrate, forget it.

Thanks to ridiculously small crowd limits, both sprawling theme parks said they can’t comply with Virginia’s rules. The management of the parks want to know why they are lumped in the same category as bowling alleys and skating rinks.
Under the governor’s rules “entertainment venues” can open at 50% capacity, but with no more than 1,000 visitors.

On a good summer day Busch Gardens draws upwards of 24,000 guests. Holding the 383-acre park to 1,000 visitors would be economic suicide for one of the biggest tourist attractions in Virginia.

So Busch Gardens will remain shuttered. And the economy of the so-called Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown will continue to circle the drain.

“Our parks are largely outdoor facilities spread across hundreds of acres but we continue to be lumped in with unrelated models like bowling alleys and skating rinks,” said Kevin Lembke, president of Busch Gardens.

Lembke told The Daily Press that Virginia is the only state that does not make a special case for theme parks in its COVID-19 re-opening rules.

The governor’s arbitrary 1,000-guest limit raises the question: Has Ralph Northam ever been to a theme park? How about a bowling alley? Does he know the difference?

If not, will someone please take him on a field trip?

Northam’s rule, like so many of his others, is not rooted in science. In fact, at his Thursday press conference Northam mentioned how many surfaces people touch at a theme park.

So what?

Seems almost all experts agree that COVID-19 is not easily acquired outdoors. And almost definitely not from surfaces. Busch Gardens management understands the need for crowd control and pandemic measures and has a plan ready that includes temperature checks at the gates, masks for guests, 300 hand sanitizing stations and frequent sterilization of equipment and rides.

But to pay the salaries of 4,000 employees, park officials insist they need to admit at least 5,000 patrons a day.

That’s a fraction of the number of visitors who normally descend on the park in the summer, but as State Sen. Tommy Norment of Williamsburg said this week, it’s “Five times what those numbnuts in Richmond were suggesting.”

Numbnuts, huh? Well said, Senator Norment.

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