Business_news Las Vegas coronavirus cases have skyrocketed, but casinos are still open: ‘Nobody wants to see them closed down again’


A showgirl participates in a fashion show in front of the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign on the Las Vegas Strip to kick off the pro-mask wearing campaign “Mask Up for Nevada.”

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

  • Coronavirus cases have been on the rise for weeks in Las Vegas, and the timing of the uptick lines up well with Nevada’s “phase two” reopening, which started on May 29. Casinos followed close behind, on June 4. 
  • The governor of Nevada is now requiring everyone to wear masks in public, with few exceptions.
  • The state’s economy is heavily reliant on tourist dollars, and if cases continue to spread, businesses may be forced to shutter again. 
  • Visit business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

They don’t have to sparkle or shine,but since Friday face masks have been requiredattire at casinos, restaurants, and all other businesses across Nevada. 

Nevada’s Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak is hoping thatrequiring masks in public— something public health officials have been stressing can help reduce some of the spread of the coronavirus from person to person — will help drive down a troubling uptick in coronavirus cases in a state that is heavilyreliant on tourism.

“Every hour there are photographs, or videos, posted of large, unmasked clusters of people … clusters of potential COVID-19 spread,” Sisolek said last week, announcing the new mask rule, which applies to any public space.

So far, at least one Las Vegas casino employee has died of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Adolfo Fernandez, who worked at Caesar’s Palace for 18 years, diedlast Wednesday, as localABC affiliate KNTV first reportedon Friday.

—Joe Bartels (@Joe_Bartels)June 27, 2020

Fernandez’s daughter told ABC “I have proof” that her father tested negative for the virus before he went back to work, and began experiencing his first symptoms of the virus, days later. TheCulinary Workers Union of Las Vegas and Renois now also filing a lawsuit against three other major Las Vegas casino restaurants, alleging hazardous working conditions there. 

Casinos are certainly not the only place where the virus is spreading in Las Vegas, or around the state of Nevada. Public health experts say there’s been a triple threat at work: widespread business reopening, in concert with casinos, anda fairly lackadaisical public. Together, they’ve all helped propel the state’s dramatic virus spread. 

“We cannot just pinpoint this spread to any casino, or casinos at large,” Southern Nevada Health District’s acting chief health officer Fermin Leguen told business Insider. “Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that.” 

Business_news Cases have been rising ever since phase 2 began — opening schools, gyms, museums, and tattoo parlors

Coronavirus cases in Las Vegas have been increasing in lock-step with the state’s “phase 2” reopening, which started before casinos opened back up.Phase 2allowed schools, gyms, museums, massage and tattoo parlors, and many other hands-on, face-to-face establishments across the state to begin reopening their doors, on May 29. Casinos followed six days after that, on June 4.

It can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks or more for the coronavirus to incubate in the body after an exposure before people start to feel sick, and maybe seek out a test. 

“The timing of this matches up with our second phase of reopening,” Brian Labus, a professor of public health and outbreak investigator at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, told business Insider. “I think people just weren’t following any of the rules.”

As more people across Nevada ventured out to restaurants, shopping centers, salons, getting back into the groove of everyday life, they had newfound opportunities to hang out and swap some air with friends and family in indoor spaces, in casinos and elsewhere.

The air-conditioned temperatures indoors in Nevada are often more refreshing than outside, in the desert heat. The average midday temperature in Las Vegas in June rises to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 Celsius). Indoors, though, isalso where the virus spreads better between people, unencumbered by fresh air and sun. 

Business_news People were “refusing to wear masks” before Friday’s mandate

Ballroom dancers Alejandro Domingo and Sarah LeClear participate in a fashion show in front of the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign on the Las Vegas Strip to kick off the pro-mask wearing campaign “Mask Up for Nevada.”

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Before last Friday’s mandate, the proportion of both residents and visitors in town wearing masks was “very slim,”Brittany Bronson, a writerand former cocktail server who spent seven years previously working in various Las Vegas casinos, told business Insider.

“The majority of people were refusing to wear masks,” Bronson said.

She had also noticed a “weird political divide” about mask wearing in her city. 

“It seems like half of the people want to, half the people don’t,” she said. “Unless there is some type of mandate or rule, I just couldn’t see people being willing to start wearing masks, just for the benefit of other people, and primarily for the benefit of the workers, who have to go back to work, and don’t really have a choice in the matter.”

Business_news Casinos had offered $20 to people to put on masks, but many didn’t

Guests play blackjack at a table with plexiglass safety shield dividers and only three seats, for social distancing, as the Bellagio Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip reopened on June 4, 2020.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Despite the fact that many casinos handed out free masks to customers, and, in some cases, evenoffered $20to patrons just to put one on, most gamblers weren’t interested. 

“You’re selecting for the people who are probably least likely to pay attention to those kinds of things,” Labus said. “They are willing to travel in the middle of a pandemic. They’re coming here on vacation, where they know they’re going to be around a lot of other people. And so those are people who are less concerned about the outbreak, and probably less likely to take some of the social distancing seriously.”

Labus said this put the casinos in an awkward position of confronting their own customers, if they insisted on masks. Caesar’s Palace did startmandating masksfor all its customers, on the same day that Fernandez died, but most venuesdecided not to, instead prioritizing more physical barriers,contactless check-ins, and coronavirus tests for staff. 

Now, “[casinos] can say ‘I don’t want to do it, but the governor said I have to,'” Labus said about masks. 

Business_news Masks are not a perfect protection — we need social distancing, too

Drag performer Jim McCoy as Auntie Norma Llyaman and Chippendales cast members Ricky Rodgers and Ryan Worley participate in a fashion show in front of the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign on the Las Vegas Strip to kick off the pro-mask wearing campaign “Mask Up for Nevada” on June 25, 2020.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Masks alone probably won’t eradicate Nevada’s outbreak completely, more distance will be important too.

“I understand that after reopening many people feel like the virus is gone, and now everything is going back to normal,” Leguen said. “Unfortunately, that’s not true. Still, the virus is here, and there’s still a high risk of acquiring the disease if we don’t protect ourselves properly.”

Under the new mask mandate,people will still be allowed to sit down and dine in close proximity to others without their face coverings on, perhaps inadvertently swapping some spit (and virus particles) while they enjoy more time and meals together. 

“I would say probably in two weeks we should start to see an effect, if it is there,” Leguen said. 

If widespread virus transmission is not soon contained, Las Vegas could shut down near completely again, which would cripple an economy that isheavily relianton tourists’ dollars. Nearly40% of Nevada’s state budgetcomes from tourism. 

“Republicans, Democrats, left and right, business owners and workers, let’s do what’s necessary to not only keep our economy open, but hopefully allow us to go full throttle in the future, safely and successfully,” Governor Sisolak said lastWednesday when announcing the new mask requirement, which includessome exceptions, such as for kids and people with breathing issues. 

Business_news Nevada really needs to stay open to stay solvent

Major casinoshemorrhaged millions of dollars a dayduring the pandemic shutdown in the spring, and the state saw its very worst unemploymentnumbers in recorded history. It’s perhaps not an entirely surprising outcome, given thatmore than 25% of the Nevada workforceis tied to the gaming industry.

—Dana Ellis (@702Sunshine)June 26, 2020

“Obviously, the economy is crucial to our city and our state, and nobody here wants to see casinos closed down again,” Bronson said. 

She said, already, she’s noticed more people donning masks in convenience stores and other public areas around town.

Though the mask mandate won’t completely eliminate risks for Nevadans in the hospitality industry, Bronson is hopeful it will help a lot. 

“Even though I think my friends seemed to be happy about the face mask mandate, it doesn’t eliminate the concern,” she said. “They have to be clearing plates, and clearing dirty dishes, and communicating and interacting with the guests.” 

CEO of Caesars Entertainment Tony Rodio (left) and Wayne Newton (in the tux) watch customer Ben Laparne roll the dice at the reopening of Caesars Palace on June 4, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Denise Truscello/Getty Images for Caesars Entertainment

Though a mask is not a perfect virus-catching solution,recent studies have been lending more and more evidence to the ideathat they can greatly reduce coronavirus transmission.One new disease model even suggestedthat if every American put on a mask in public over the next three months, 33,000 lives could be saved. 

Bronson, for one, says she’s “far more inclined” to go out and “gamble a little bit” now, knowing that she’s just a little more protected from the virus’ spread. 

“I’m really proud of our governor for doing this,” she said. “I think it was necessary, just based on the reality of our economy, and the transience of the people who come and leave Las Vegas.”

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