Las Vegas Sun

October 26, 2021

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Employees in Southern Nevada soon required to wear masks indoors

Bellagio Reopens

Wade Vandervort

A guest takes a photo of a face mask, glove and hand sanitizer station at the reopening of the Bellagio, Thursday, June 4, 2020. Casinos in Nevada were allowed to reopen on Thursday for the first time after temporary closures as a precaution against the coronavirus.

The Clark County Commission rejected bringing back a blanket mask mandate as COVID-19 climbs again, although people who work in indoor public spaces will be required to wear them at work.

The relatively limited mask requirement passed unanimously Tuesday afternoon at a commission meeting that was predictably intense at times. The requirement goes into effect Thursday at midnight and will run through Aug. 17, when the commission will revisit the topic.

Commissioner Jim Gibson, who pitched the restriction, said his initial philosophy is “if you catch it, it’s on you.” But he said the economic health of the region depends on government intervention to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“I’ve moved from doing nothing to we have to do something, because we can't afford to allow hospitals to become worse in their crowding, and we can't afford to have this economy suffer, not even in the slightest,” he said.

Under the county’s direction, people who work in crowded indoor, public-facing places like casinos, grocery stores, malls and large-event venues must wear masks while working, regardless of vaccination status.

The Southern Nevada Health District similarly recommended last week that all people wear masks in indoor public spaces even if they’ve been vaccinated. The health district doesn’t have the authority to implement a mandate, though. In Clark County, that falls to the commission.

About 50 people, the overwhelming majority of them against masks, spoke before the commission. Many also spoke against vaccines and questioned the severity of the disease in general.

Jim Blockey said that wearing a mask is a personal decision and that he doesn’t think masks are going to save anyone from COVID-19.

“Masks probably work as good as a whiffle ball as a condom,” he said.

“We the people say no more,” said Monica Ursua. “Vegas is starting to come back. My family is starting to go back to work. My fear is that this will again lead to lockdowns, business closures or failures.”

Dave Crete said he was bedridden for 42 days last year with COVID-19. He later got vaccinated. He stressed that getting the shot was his personal choice. 

“We have been given in this country the freedom of choice,” he said. “Which also means that freedom brings us the responsibility to be accountable for those choices.”

A handful of commenters backed masks, including representatives from the Nevada Resort Association and Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

“This is our second-most effective tool next to vaccinations, which we and our membership continue to push,” said David Dazlich, director of government affairs for the Vegas chamber.

Dr. Cort Lohff, chief medical officer for SNHD, said the more-transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 now accounts for about 80% of new cases in the area. 

“We really need to do something that's very simple and very effective to mitigate the further transmission of this virus,” he said. "And that is to mask up."

The best way to avoid another shutdown like the one that paralyzed Vegas last year is for more people to get vaccinated, Lohff said.

Gov. Steve Sisolak loosened the statewide mask mandate in May after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in most indoor settings. Local governments took over other pandemic responses, including physical distancing rules and capacity limits, from the state earlier in May.

By June 1, Clark County no longer had distancing, capacity or mask rules, heralding Las Vegas’ “full reopening” and embracing a return to the level of tourism the region needs to hold up its economy.

Disease spread, however, has picked up dramatically around the state and particularly in Clark County in the last few weeks. 

As of Tuesday, Clark County was averaging 579 new cases a day, with 13.8% of COVID tests returning positive. Local hospitals had 757 people hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 cases, representing more than 90% of all confirmed hospitalized patients in the state.

As of June 1, the county had 155 confirmed hospitalizations and a test positivity rate of 3.7%.

Sisolak backed the Clark County plan.

“I support the Clark County Commission for using their local authority to issue this mitigation measure amid significant community transmission in Southern Nevada and as we continue our joint effort to increase access and confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines,” he said in a statement.

Gibson, who sits on the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board, said the visitors bureau has been asked directly by some of the largest trade show organizers what local government plans to do to blunt the spike. Trade shows fill hotel rooms midweek, pumping economic lifeblood into the area between the leisure travelers who are here on the weekends.

“We have already been through a shutdown and a startup and we cannot afford to have major conventions decide to go elsewhere,” Gibson said.