LAS VEGAS (AP) – Tourism-dependent Las Vegas elected officials on Tuesday expressed concern over public health and the economic effects of a spike in COVID-19 cases – especially the highly contagious delta variant.
But they’ve decided not to put a full face mask on everyone who walks the Strip and congregates in crowded spaces and casinos.
Instead, the Clark County Commission voted to require employers to require workers to wear masks in indoor public spaces such as stores, malls and clubs, and to post signs citing local health district advice according to which everyone – vaccinated or not – should wear face coverings.
âWe have to do something,â Commissioner Jim Gibson said as he raised the specter of overcrowded hospitals and canceled trade shows. The world of tourism, he said, was watching what the elected body with jurisdiction over the Las Vegas Strip would do.
âWe’ve been through a stop and a start before,â Gibson said. âWe cannot allow the big conventions to choose to go elsewhere. “
A hastily called and at times controversial emergency meeting drew a large audience and around 50 speakers – almost all opposed to mask demands, vaccinations, business closures and distancing.
âAny decision made by a person carries risks. The vaccines should be up to us, âsaid spokeswoman Katrin Ivanoff, who was later pulled out by security officers after an explosion of voices from her seat.
Representatives for the Nevada Resort Association and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce said they were in favor of a mask warrant and asked for written advice on the application.
The committee unanimously decided that places where more than 250 people gather should submit plans by next Monday on possible next steps to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The vote made the mask rule effective at 12:01 am Thursday, to be revised on August 17.
Some have said that they simply will not comply.
“It will not be enforced,” predicted speaker Monica Ursua. âWe the people say, Not anymore. “
The seven-member commission, all Democrats, recognized “coronavirus fatigue” 16 months after Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak made masks mandatory in March 2020, closed casinos and non-essential businesses, and put in place distancing measures and others.
On May 13, the governor, a Democrat, under CDC guidelines, dropped the requirement for vaccinated people to wear face coverings in Nevada. Unvaccinated people were still advised to wear masks.
Over the next two months, the Delta variant took hold of Nevada. The variant was first detected in India, but has spread around the world.
It was identified in 76% of samples collected and sequenced in Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County, data shows released Friday by the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine.
âThe delta variant was a game-changer,â said Brian Labus, a longtime Southern Nevada Health District epidemiologist who now teaches public health at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He said in an interview that the mask debate has resurfaced “because we are still in the midst of a pandemic”.
âWe know that masks reduce your risk and the risk of spreading the virus to others,â Labus said. âWe don’t want to go back to closures and capacity restrictions and social distancing. “
Labus has advised the governor on pandemic issues and called on people to get vaccinated. He acknowledged that the data shows that most people who now contract the virus are not vaccinated.
The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Nevada on Tuesday continued to climb, to 1,004, but no new deaths. Nevada has counted 5,761 lives lost in the state to COVID-19 since March 2020. Nationwide, nearly 607,000 people have died.
Meanwhile, the state’s vaccination rates have stagnated in recent weeks.
Health officials report that 55.4% of Nevada residents aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. About 46.6% are fully vaccinated.
Nationally, the CDC says more than 68% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Labus noted that the state follows residents of Nevada, not tourists and visitors.
The balance between tourism and health security is “delicate” for public officials, said Amanda Belarmino, assistant professor at the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at UNLV.
âYou don’t want to alienate customers,â she says. âIt’s hard to tell people again that they are coming back to the restrictions. But I think most people would rather wear a mask than not being able to leave the house. “
Testing positivity, a benchmark measure of the percentage of people tested and found infected, has tripled in Nevada from a low of 3.4% in mid-May. The World Health Organization’s target is 5% or less to ease restrictions.
The figure rose to 12.4% statewide on Tuesday and 13.5% in the Las Vegas area, which is home to 2.3 million people and welcomes tens of millions of visitors a year. The figure peaked at 21.2% on Jan.12, when some Las Vegas hospitals were pushed to capacity and one issued a disaster declaration.
The Nevada Hospital Association on Tuesday reported 876 hospitalizations in the Las Vegas area due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 193 patients in intensive care. Officials say hospital capacity is not an immediate concern.
The CDC is now evaluating “high” community transmission of the virus in and around Las Vegas, as well as in rural Nevada counties of Nye, Esmeralda, Mineral and Elko. Almost 80% of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Nevada have been in Clark County.
In the Reno, Sparks and Carson City area, where testing positivity was 7% on Tuesday, Washoe County health officials said they had no plans to implement any requirements or recommendations for masks in their region.