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Parts of Las Vegas Strip packed with visitors on Labor Day weekend

Updated September 6, 2020 - 8:02 pm

Parts of the Strip and downtown Las Vegas were teeming with tourists Saturday night, many of them not wearing masks, sparking concerns that Nevada’s COVID-19 safety protocols are being ignored in crowded hot spots.

Large crowds were observed in front of the Fountains of Bellagio, the Forum Shops at Caesars and the Linq Promenade. Crowds were seen with many people in close proximity and many of them without masks on or worn under their chins, after Gov. Steve Sisolak mandated face coverings in June.

Many infectious disease experts had voiced concern that large gatherings over the holiday weekend could trigger a rise in infections, deaths and hospitalizations, such as those that followed the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays.

‘Not surprised’

Terri Clark of San Tan Valley, Arizona, was wearing a mask while visiting the Strip for the first time.

“I was expecting there to be way fewer people,” Clark said Sunday afternoon. “And I’m amazed at how many people are completely disregarding the masks and social distancing.”

Clark said she’s not concerned about her own safety because she’s taking all the precautions she can.

“I wear my mask everywhere, I social distance and I have like five bottles of hand sanitizer in my purse,” Clark said. “I’m just shocked to see how many people aren’t taking it seriously.”

Brian Labus, an epidemiologist and assistant professor of public health at UNLV, said the close proximity of the people and the lack of masks in tourist hot spots is concerning.

“I’m not surprised to hear there are large crowds on the Strip and social distancing really isn’t being followed as well as it should,” Labus said. “Anytime you see crowds of people together that aren’t paying attention to the outbreak, I’m definitely going to be concerned. It is a situation where disease can spread,and that is the exact opposite of what we want to happen.”

The Southern Nevada Health District issued a statement on the crowds, encouraging people to take precautions.

“We hope that we do not see a resurgence in case counts and case rates in the coming weeks following Labor Day weekend,” the statement read. “We have made progress as a community and we have seen decreases in case rates over the past several weeks. We continue to encourage people to follow the directives as we continue to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

Nevada reported 508 new cases of COVID-19 Sunday and one additional death, bringing state totals to 71,610 cases and 1,389 fatalities.

Labus has served on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s medical advisory team. He said the fact the people were outdoors reduces risk, “but as soon as it is a crowd that is a problem.” He said changing the dynamic of the situation, with people spreading out and wearing their masks, is largely a function of personal responsibility.

“We have governor mandates but it is not like law enforcement is going to walk around the Strip and arrest people for not wearing masks,” Labus said. “So, it really comes down to that individual responsibility to follow the rules at this point.”

Labus said Las Vegas is confronting a paradox in coping with the pandemic. The city wants visitors to come, get together and have a great time, which is a challenge when also working to combat the transmission of the coronavirus.

The way Las Vegas is designed isn’t focused on social distancing, Labus said.

“We want people interacting, coming together and having a good time, so if Las Vegas is going to exist, you have that reality. If we are going to bring people to town, they are going to be in close contact,” he said.

“There is only so much we can do to reduce disease transmission,” Labus said. “Masks is an easy one, but it is difficult to get people to pay attention. They want a break from their everyday lives, and masks are a part of that day to day right now.”

Officials with Clark County and Sisolak’s office could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Masks worn indoors

Inside casinos on the Strip, nearly everyone could be seen wearing masks, with the exception of those who lowered them to eat or drink. Shortly after noon on Sunday, with the temperature approaching 110 degrees, about a dozen people were seen at Bellagio’s fountains, and most weren’t wearing masks. A few people wore them while they watched fountain show, but many pulled theirs below their chins and others held theirs in their hands.

Cynthia Guzman of Gardena, California, was in town for the weekend and staying in a Fremont Street hotel. It’s the first time she’s been to Las Vegas since February, and she said it’s “totally different.”

“It’s good because it seems like the city is really trying to enforce the COVID rules,” she said. “When we’re outside it’s kind of up to us on what we do, but when we get inside the casinos have been really good about enforcing social distancing and making sure everyone is wearing their masks.”

While she said she’s glad precautions are being taken, she’s noticed that the service is much slower.

“The food service is not great,” Guzman said. “Everything is much slower and the lines are a lot longer, but the prices are still the same. You’re just not getting your money’s worth like you used to.”

Guzman said she’s noticed most of the lines have been packed shoulder to shoulder, despite markings on the ground designating spaces 6 feet apart.

“I think Las Vegas is trying,” she said. “But the people have got to start being more cautious.”

Contact Glenn Puit by email at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter. Contact Alexis Ford at aford@reviewjournal.com. Follow @alexisdford on Twitter.

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