Michelle L. Award
LAS VEGAS – Fifteen months after the pandemic turned Las Vegas from a blazing spectacle to a ghost town, Sin City is back.
Tourists are flocking again, gambling revenues have hit an all-time high, the Las Vegas Strip has its first new casino in a decade, and big concerts begin in a sparkling new stadium. Plexiglass panels installed to separate players at poker and blackjack tables have been largely removed, world-famous buffets are reopening, and dance floors in nightclubs are packed.
Vice President Kamala Harris was due to visit on Saturday for what the White House calls the “America’s Back Together” tour celebrating progress against the virus.
But that progress is under threat: Nevada this week recorded the nation’s highest rate of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations are on the rise again, and the highly contagious delta variant has become the most prevalent form of the virus in the state, adding the urgency of the campaign to vaccinate more people.
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Yet in a place where the economy runs on crowds and uninhibited behavior, a return to pandemic restrictions and mask requirements seems to be out of place.
Inside casinos, customers aren’t required to wear masks if they’re fully immunized, but employees don’t appear to be asking anyone for proof.
“Looks like everything is opening up again, back to normal,” Teresa Lee, 47, a tourist from Nashville, Tennessee, said Thursday as she stood on the Strip, gazing at the fountains in front of the Bellagio. . casino.
Lee said she was vaccinated and felt safe in Las Vegas because she had read about casinos’ efforts to vaccinate their employees and families.
Tyler Williams, a 22-year-old from Eugene, Oregon, said he no longer felt like there was a pandemic because “people are everywhere.” He said he saw hardly anyone with a mask other than a few foreign tourists and felt no need to wear one himself because he is vaccinated.
Las Vegas fully reopened and lifted restrictions on most businesses on June 1, although many hotel casinos had already returned to 100% capacity before that with state regulator approval. The number of visitors, although not reaching its pre-pandemic highs, has risen to double digits for four consecutive months.
Shows and fireworks are scheduled for the weekend of July 4, and the new 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium where the relocated NFL Raiders will kick off their season this fall was scheduled to host its first major concert on Saturday, by the star of electronic dance music Illenium. It will be followed by a full capacity Garth Brooks show next weekend.
Over the past two weeks, Nevada’s diagnostic rate of 190 new cases per 100,000 people was higher than that of Missouri, Arkansas and Wyoming – all states with lower immunization levels – and the laboratory of State public health found the delta variant in nearly half of the COVID -19 cases it analyzed.
In addition, the number of patients hospitalized with the virus has increased by 33% over the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although the levels are well below what they were in December, when the hospitals were almost at capacity.
State biostatistician Kyra Morgan said on Friday that the surge in cases could be attributed to the full reopening of the state and city in June and that the return of crowds and big events to the Strip could lead to prosecution. of the increase.
âIf we know anything about COVID, we know that when people congregate near each other in high volumes, this is the recipe for the transmission of COVID to increase,â Morgan said.
National and local authorities said almost all new cases and hospitalizations involved people not vaccinated and the best way to tackle the problem was to get more shots. Nevada has fully vaccinated 45% of those 12 and older, well below the national level of 55%, according to the CDC.
âWe are a state of skeptics when it comes to vaccines,â Morgan said. âFrankly, we have a lot of anti-vaccines in the state of Nevada.
State and local authorities, who went so far as to organize a vaccination clinic at a strip club in May, said they were trying to find other ways to persuade people, including throwing a raffle.
Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak, who took the unprecedented step of shutting down casinos for 11 weeks last year when the pandemic began, said Thursday he would seek help from COVID-19 response teams as the Biden administration sends to boost testing and vaccinations in communities with outbreaks.
Sisolak’s office did not respond to questions about whether it was considering reimposing mask warrants or other restrictions, but Las Vegas area officials say they are following CDC guidelines, which say that it is safe for fully vaccinated people to do without a mask.
âAt this point, there is no discussion about increasing restrictions on business and social life here in Clark County,â said Dr. Fermin Leguen, Las Vegas area health officer. âGetting better immunization figures is the solution to this problem at this point. “