The Las Vegas Strip is slowly awakening after a nearly 80-day slumber due to the coronavirus crisis. USA TODAY
LAS VEGAS – This glittering desert destination has long been a place travelers visit to escape the rules of home.
But a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases across Nevada has created a new rule visitors can’t ignore: wearing a mask in public.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has ordered all Nevadans and Silver State tourists to wear face coverings in public and inside private businesses like the many beckoning resorts dotting The Strip.
“Wearing mask coverings save lives, period. End of story,” Sisolak said during a Wednesday evening press conference. “We owe it to each other to accept the fact that wearing face mask coverings saves lives.”
Casino executives and tourism authorities applaud the mask decree.
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Steve Hill called it a “smart decision” that can prevent the spread of the contagious respiratory illness.
“We have an obligation to take care of our employees and our customers, and it’s a business necessity as well,” Hill said. “It is clearly the right thing to do, and the industry supports the determination the governor is making.”
When Caesars Palace reopened on June 4, an employee handing out masks with a tong estimated 80% of visitors weren’t wearing masks. It’s a game with serious consequences: If people continue refusing masks, Hill said, Las Vegas could close.
“It’s good policy,” MGM Resorts Acting CEO Bill Hornbuckle told the USA TODAY Network. “Caution is critically important, and we have seen that those areas, those states, those businesses that required masks in the collective have fared better than those that have not.”
Will masks stunt visitation in Las Vegas?
Southern Nevada tourism authorities say research suggests a large number of vacationers indicated they would still visit Las Vegas if masks were required, but there’s no telling yet what impact the new requirements will have on travel.
“People were pent up, looking at the four walls of their rooms for three months, and things had gotten better and some got pretty carefree when they had the opportunity to come back to town and escape that stay-at-home situation,” Hill said. “But everyone can see the numbers at this point, and I think the vast majority will understand the need for this step to be taken, and frankly if we don’t do it, I think that would have more of an impact on visitation than doing it.”
Nevada crested 14,000 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. In total, 14,362 Nevadans have tested positive for coronavirus and 494 people have died, according the Nevada Health Alliance dashboard.
The state’s four highest single-day increases have all been recorded within the past week, according to state data.
At MGM, Hornbuckle is optimistic people will continue returning to Las Vegas.
“The reaction and response we’ve had after reopening has been beyond our expectations,” Hornbuckle said. “We still think there’s opportunity to come.”
The coronavirus casino closure is ending, with cards to be dealt, dice to roll and slot jackpots to win starting Thursday in Las Vegas and throughout Nevada. (June 4) AP Domestic
If you don’t wear a mask, will there be fines?
Hours before Sisolak ordered Nevadans to wear masks in all public places, both MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment launched its own mandate for all hotel-casino guests.
The policy applies to all Caesars properties open in Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, and Indiana, as well as tribal properties in Arizona, California and North Carolina.
Anyone who refuses to wear a mask will be directed to leave the property.
“You see signs at a lot of places that say ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service,’” Hill said. “Well, I think we’re just going to add ‘no masks.””
Sisolak’s mandate stops short of fining Nevadans and visitors without masks, but the governor did not rule out the possibility of monetary penalties.
“Businesses that fail to meet requirements in this directive will face violations from licensing agencies and regulatory authorities, in addition to Nevada OSHA,” Sisolak said. “A reminder as well that businesses have the right to ask a patron to leave if they are not following this directive.”
The governor said mask wearing shouldn’t be a political issue.
“A mask helps reduce the spread of infectious disease,” Sisolak said. “Anyone who is denying that is denying reality.”
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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