Casinos throughout Nevada were closed Wednesday, along with other nonessential businesses, following an unprecedented order from Gov. Steve Sisolak. He urged residents to stay home to help curtail the spread of the new coronavirus. (March 18) AP Domestic
LAS VEGAS – As coronavirus spreads, officials across the country are turning to spaces like empty hotels to house patients.
On the Strip, there are more than 65,000 rooms going unused.
But don’t expect resort giants to give those beds to the sick and dying.
Although an overwhelming surge in COVID-19 cases could soon overflow hospitals and quarantine centers in Nevada, it’s unlikely those empty rooms will be converted to makeshift treatment centers.
The USA TODAY Network reached out to private hotel-casino giants and hospitality experts to find out why and learned the central industry driving Nevada’s economy contends the request would be too difficult to fulfill.
“Beyond a skeleton security team and a few specialists required by gaming regulations, we do not have staff on site who could provide the services and support necessary to make this a viable option,” said Caesars Entertainment spokesman Richard Broome.
‘We have not been asked’
When it comes to securing beds on the Strip for a worst-case scenario, officials have not even made the ask.
“We understand the Clark County Emergency Management team is executing on plans for supplemental housing that meets specific criteria in the event of a medical surge,” said National Resort Association President Virginia Valentine. “While our industry has responded to multiple community requests, we have not been approached on this matter.”
MGM Resorts International did not respond to multiple requests to reveal whether government officials asked for beds. Las Vegas Sands declined to comment.
If you’re unfortunate enough to have tested positive for COVID-19, you’ve probably been advised to stay home and recover. Wochit
It appears the Strip is an off-limits zone for bed requests.
“We have not been asked,” said Caesars spokesman Broome.
Wynn Resorts spokesman Michael Weaver said the company has been in “frequent contact” with the state’s COVID-19 Response, Relief and Recovery Task Force – but he did not comment on whether the hotel bed question has been raised.
R&R Partners is the advertising firm handling communications for the task force chaired by former MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren.
The force’s sole mission is tracking down personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies, the firm said, directing questions about whether resorts have been approached about beds to the Southern Nevada Health District.
“The Health District did not reach out to resorts on the Strip,” SNHD spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore wrote in an email.
Desperate for beds
If the number of cases continues to soar, no state will be have enough hospital beds, with about 17 people competing for each open bed, according to a USA TODAY analysis.
The U.S. reached 402,000 confirmed cases and surpassed 13,000 deaths Wednesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. Worldwide, there are 1.4 million confirmed cases and more than 85,000 deaths. In Nevada, health officials counted 2,318 coronavirus cases statewide and 71 deaths.
State and local officials are becoming desperate for more beds as hospitals – including those in small, rural communities – become overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.
Crews at TCF Center in Detroit and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers transform the convention center into a 1,000-bed hospital for coronavirus patients. Wochit
In Southern Nevada, Clark County officials have been in talks with smaller hotels, motels, convention spaces, surgical centers and warehouses as spots where the region’s bed count could be increased by 1,000.
Officials in coming days are expected to update the public and unveil some of the partnerships that could increase bed count. Such collaborations are unfolding across the country – many of them in the hotel industry.
Hotels in the resort town of Ocean City, Maryland, have stepped up to offer rooms for some patients. In Cook County, Illinois, the emergency management team started looking for hotel space early last month. The county is negotiating with hotels for 8,000 rooms that it can use as needed.
‘It would be difficult to adapt’
Because the statewide casino shutdown has shaved resort staffs to skeleton crews, it would be a challenge to transition Strip hotels for COVID-19 patients, according Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine.
“Given the immense size and scale of resort properties and the many factors that go into their operations, it would be difficult to adapt resort hotel rooms with limited operational levels,” she said in an email.
Mehmet Erdem, associate professor at UNLV’s Hospitality College, said the challenges of converting megaresorts to surge centers go beyond operational hurdles.
“Let’s say you did sanitize, many surfaces may have the virus,” Erdem said. “Who wants to take the liability of putting someone in a hotel room and they get infected from the previous patients?”
Contributing: USA TODAY.
Ed Komenda writes about Las Vegas for the Reno Gazette Journal and USA Today Network. Do you care about democracy? Then support local journalism by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal right here.
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