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SeaWorld to furlough most of its employees amid COVID-19 closures

A penguin walks on the floor of the NYSE after SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. rings the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on January 15, 2014. On Friday, the company said it's furloughing 90 percent of its workforce. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI
A penguin walks on the floor of the NYSE after SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. rings the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on January 15, 2014. On Friday, the company said it's furloughing 90 percent of its workforce. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

March 28 (UPI) -- SeaWorld Entertainment has announced the furlough of more than 90 percent of its employees due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The company made the announcement that thousands would be furloughed beginning Wednesday in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Friday.

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"The furloughed employees will not receive compensation from the company during the furlough period after March 31," the filing said. "The furlough period is uncertain at this time due to the temporary park closures and will be reassessed as business conditions dictate."

SeaWorld had 4,300 full-time employees and nearly 11,000 part-time employees as of the end of last year, a SEC filing last month shows.

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The company has had rounds of layoffs over the years, but the furlough was a first for the company.

Employees were sent a letter, which cited restrictions because of COVID-19, as a reason for the furlough.

"Government orders prohibiting large gatherings, restricting travel, and mandating business closures have caused many companies to scale back or cease operations," the letter said. "They have caused significant disruption to our communities and are anticipated to do so for the foreseeable future."

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The company has struggled after the 2013 Blackfish film documenting concerns over Tilikum, a killer whale SeaWorld held that killed three people by drowning them. The documentary sparked controversy over such captive whales.

The company cut 475 positions in 2017 and 2018 and an undisclosed number about a year ago.

Still, before the coronavirus pandemic, attendance had been recovering as the park launched new attractions, such as a Sesame Street-themed land at SeaWorld Orlando.

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Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings' stay-at-home executive order went into effect Thursday banning all non-essential business and travel through April 9.

The Orlando economy is also hurting because of the closure of other major attractions, such as Walt Disney World.

Despite a closure since the end of business on March 15 due to the pandemic, hourly Disney employees will be paid through April 18, the company said in a statement.

Earlier in the week Universal Orlando extended its closure to curb the coronavirus spread from the end of March through April 19.

"Taking care of our Universal Orlando team members remains one of most important priorities, and we remain committed to paying them through this closure period, Universal spokeswoman Alyson Lundell told the Orlando Sentinel in an email.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Florida rose to more than 3,000 Friday, including 144 non-Florida residents, according to the Florida Department of Health. Seventeen people have died after testing positive for the virus in Broward, Dade, Hillsborough, Lee, Orange, Palm Beach, St. Johns and St. Lucie counties.

In Orange County alone, 206 total cases and four deaths had been reported as of noon Saturday.

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Playground equipment is closed off to children to help stop the spread of COVID-19 at a park in Takoma Park, Md., on April 15. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

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