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Officials push for 50 percent capacity for live entertainment, public gatherings

Updated February 26, 2021 - 1:37 pm

Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick rattles off statewide COVID-19 statistics with the educated precision of a leading scientist.

“I’m going to get a GED in COVID when this is all over,” says Kirkpatrick, who took over the commission chair from Steve Sisolak when Sisolak was elected governor.

For months, Kirkpatrick has been tracking daily COVID numbers while collecting pandemic safety recommendations from Las Vegas tourism officials, venue operators and business leaders. These groups have walked a tightrope, balancing health-and-safety measures with economic pressure to put thousands of sidelined workers back on the job.

The hard work is paying off. An extensively researched plan to safely allow 50 percent capacity for public gatherings this month is being delivered to Sisolak as the governor plans for the next phase of COVID safety directives statewide.

“We would like to see, no later than March 1, us to get back to 50 percent,” Kirkpatrick said Monday afternoon. “But we have to be mindful that this week will be very telling.”

Kirkpatrick is presenting a proposal to expand restrictions on live entertainment and public gatherings to 50 percent of a venue’s capacity, or 250 maximum, to the state’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force. The country commissioner is also the chair of of the Multi-Agency Coordination Center (MACC). That body heads up coordination of proposals from local governments, business organizations, and community groups that go to the COVID Task Force.

Currently, the ongoing statewide “pause” limits capacity at 25 percent of five-code capacity for such businesses as restaurants, bars, casinos and gyms. The cap for such public gatherings as live entertainment is also 25 percent capacity, and no more than 50 people, with a 25-foot distance required between performers from the closest audience members.

In effect, the latest proposal would be a return to the 50 percent capacity, 250-people restrictions Sisolak established in October. On Nov. 24, as COVID numbers escalated, Sisolak tightened public-gathering restrictions to 25 percent, a pause that has since been extended to Feb. 12.

Statistics, as always, drive the COVID reopening protocols. But Kirkpatrick and Nevada Resorts Association President Virginia Valentine have assembled a sensible safety plan after taking part in an online brainstorming session Saturday with several members of Las Vegas Vegas Events President Pat Christenson’s Vegas COVID-19 Events Committee.

Kirkpatrick says she has been largely encouraged by recent COVID statistics. On Wednesday, 750 new COVID cases were reported statewide. The new cases were below the moving 14-day average of daily reported cases, which dropped to 896. According to state statistics, Tuesday was the first time the rate had fallen below 1,000 since Nov. 4, when it was 996. But the 49 COVID deaths reported were higher than the two-week moving average of 17.

The latest safety restrictions during the statewide pause have helped curb COVID stats. But they have also undercut Las Vegas’ entertainment, convention and hospitality industries.

“The speed of Las Vegas’ recovery and bringing back tens of thousands of jobs depend on how soon we can hold gatherings and events,” Valentine said in an email. “It’s very challenging to run a business at 25-percent occupancy, which is why we’re hopeful we can return to 50 percent very soon.”

Valentine also indicated some of the positive recent COVID data.

“In preparation of the return to 50 percent capacity, we’ve been working with various stakeholders on a plan to safely bring back the meetings and events business as soon as practical, particularly due to the recent developments like favorable health data, the vaccine distribution and advancements in testing,” she said. “We want to give event organizers predictability. They require extensive planning, and they need to understand what requirements will be in place and when so they can budget and prepare.

“As long as this business remains on hold, our economy will struggle.”

Christenson emphasizes that his group is largely an advisory entity, which does not issue binding directives to public officials — especially the governor. But the VECC, along with the Las Vegas Entertainment Creators Council organized by Cirque du Soleil Senior Vice President Eric Grilly, have furnished public officials with recommendations from industry leaders.

“We just need to be prepared for the guidelines the state creates,” Christenson said. “We are here to have good conversation and dialogue, and give our input on what can be the most effective way to reopen. But I sound like a broken record. We’ve been at the mercy of the virus ever since this started.”

Kirkpatrick said the effort was collaborative among officials across the state. She said the talks with VECC were beneficial for short-term and long-term economic recovery during COVID, and to “get back to entertainment as we know it in Clark County.”

“What I will tell you is we will recommend that we start moving toward the 50 percent by March 1, if not sooner,” Kirpatrick said. “It’s always great when we can go sooner, but I don’t like to over-promise to folks, because I don’t have the magic pen.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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