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Nevada gaming regulators will enforce Clark County mask mandate

Updated July 21, 2021 - 8:36 pm

Clark County’s mandate for employees to wear masks while in crowded indoor spaces also will apply to casinos, the Nevada Gaming Control Board said Wednesday.

When the board issued a notice to the gaming industry in May announcing the lifting of all applicable COVID-19 restrictions starting in June, “it did so knowing that the pandemic would be an evolving emergency for the foreseeable future, and that local jurisdictions would act in the best interests of their constituents,” gaming board Chair J. Brin Gibson said in a statement.

The county doesn’t have jurisdiction over gaming properties. But the board, which does have that jurisdiction, made clear Wednesday that the mandate would be enforced at casinos and resorts across Southern Nevada, as well.

“As a partner in the mitigation and management of the COVID-19 pandemic since its inception, the Board is fully supportive of the Southern Nevada Health District and the Clark County Commission in its mask mandate for employees in Clark County. The Board will ensure compliance with this requirement in Clark County within the Board’s areas of jurisdiction,” Gibson added.

The mandate, which takes effect at midnight Wednesday, comes as the region is experiencing another spike in COVID-19 metrics amid stalled vaccination rates and more contagious variants like the delta variant becoming more prominent. Gov. Steve Sisolak, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dropped the state’s initial mask mandate on May 13. Since mid-June, COVID-19 case metrics, including infection rates, case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths, have all been on the rise once again.

The recent surge prompted Los Angeles County’s top health official to recommend on July 15 that residents not travel to Las Vegas. And on Tuesday, the Chicago Department of Public Health added Nevada to its COVID-19 travel advisory list, and health officials in Kauai discouraged residents from traveling to Las Vegas, saying, “This destination poses significant risks.”

Striking a balance

With the decision to require masks for workers but not the general public, experts said that Clark County is trying to walk a thin line between slowing the surging spread of the COVID-19 virus and keeping Southern Nevada’s economy from stalling out once again.

“The county was in a precarious position where it needed to balance the recommendation from the Southern Nevada Health District and making sure that people know that Vegas is still open,” said Brendan Bussmann director of government affairs for Las Vegas-based Global Market Advisors. “I think the commission gave a healthy balance to say ‘Let’s do what we can.’”

Tourism, the lifeblood of Southern Nevada, has been on the rebound since the spring, even before the original mask mandate for all was lifted. Room occupancy rates in Clark County have steadily climbed each month this year, and the state saw gaming win in excess of $1 billion for both March and April before setting an all-time monthly record with $1.23 billion in May.

Brian Labus, an epidemiologist and assistant professor with the UNLV School of Public Health, said that the mandate is “a step in the right direction, but obviously it doesn’t protect everybody.”

“We learned that masks provide protection for the person wearing them. It’s going to provide protection for the employees,” Labus said. “The whole point of wearing a mask, even if you’re vaccinated, is to make up for the increased risk you’re seeing because of the delta variant.”

Likely continued vaccination push

Greg Chase, founder and CEO of Las Vegas-based Experience Strategy Associates, said that the new mandate is about “protecting employees and their families but also encouraging folks to come to Las Vegas as a destination.”

Chase, who worked on COVID-related public service campaigns, said he expects to see a continued push by resorts to make the vaccine available to employees, as well as efforts to boost vaccination rates among the public.

After the health district last week recommended that people in Clark County wear a mask while indoors, vaccinated or not, some resorts, including The Venetian and Palazzo, changed their policy to require masks for all employees.

Keith Salwoski, executive director of public relations for The Venetian, said Wednesday that the company is now also requiring weekly on-site testing for employees who have not provided proof of full COVID-19 vaccination.

Wynn Resorts spokesman Michael Weaver said that the company will “of course follow the new mask mandate,” and noted that 87 percent of Wynn employees in Las Vegas have been vaccinated.

MGM Resorts International will implement the county’s new mandate but its mask policy for guests — vaccinated guests can go maskless while unvaccinated guests are required to wear a mask — won’t change.

“The health department recommends everyone — all guests and employees — wear masks when indoors, and we have posted signs throughout our properties communicating those recommendations. Masks continue to be available for guests at all MGM properties, and we remain vigilant in following our health and safety protocols,” MGM spokesman Brian Ahern said.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Dr. Miriam Adelson, the majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns and operates The Venetian and Palazzo.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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