Las Vegas Sun

December 1, 2021

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Tourists in Las Vegas, like the rest of us, are split on the mask mandate


David Becker / AP

A couple wearing face masks kisses as they celebrate New Year’s Eve along the Las Vegas Strip Thursday, Dec 31, 2020, in Las Vegas.

Tamaya Nash and her fiance, Mark White, strolled down the crowded Las Vegas Strip on Wednesday — unvaccinated, unmasked and unafraid.

“I’ve been blessed. I haven’t gotten coronavirus or had any scares,” said Nash, a trucker visiting from Los Angeles. “I know that the (delta variant) is scaring everyone, but I don’t think I’m going to get it.”

In spite of their vaccination status, a vast majority of Las Vegas tourists have been going bare-faced since mask mandates for vaccinated people were dropped June 1.

That changes starting 12:01 a.m. Friday.

Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Tuesday he was reinstating a mask mandate in areas where the virus was surging — most notably Las Vegas. Face coverings will be required for everyone in indoor public settings, including casinos.

For the past two months — under an honor system — those who had been vaccinated had been given the OK to go without face coverings.

But the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Nevada Resort Association support the move to protect guests and employees with reinstatement of the mask mandate.

“It is critical that we stop further spread of the variant, and masks are an effective tool in doing that,” said Virginia Valentine, president of the Resort Association.

Nash said she didn’t like wearing masks but would have no problem complying with the rule. “I have my masks with me. I’m ready,” she said.

White, who lives in Washington, D.C., said he was skeptical about why mask mandates were dropped and then put back in place, but he plans to follow the rules, nonetheless.

“It’s an inconvenience, but I guess you want to be safe,” said White, who expressed some skepticism about the severity of the pandemic. “I haven’t gotten corona this whole time. If I die, it’s not going to be from corona.”

Medical authorities say it’s that kind of hesitancy that has stalled the national vaccine campaign and is letting the more contagious delta variant continue its rapid spread.

When Las Vegas dropped its mask mandate, Nevada was averaging 135 new COVID-19 cases a day, with a test positivity rate of 3.7%. Since then, those numbers have exploded to 814 new daily cases and a 14% positivity rate.

In a letter to employees, Bill Hornbuckle, CEO and president of MGM Resorts International, blamed the surge on the delta variant and the low vaccination rate in Clark County, where 46% of the eligible population is vaccinated.

“This is another disheartening step backward when we should be focused on continuing our recovery,” said Hornbuckle, who urged people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“In addition to the heart-wrenching thought of more illness and death, I fear that progressively more restrictive measures, including a return to social distancing and capacity restrictions, could be around the corner if we continue on this path. This would be a significant blow to our community, industry and economy,” he said.

Visiting Las Vegas with a small group from Houston, Jackie Smith had his mask on as he stood outside the Flamingo.

Smith said he has worn a mask wherever he has gone, even though he’s been vaccinated. In Las Vegas, he quickly realized he’s in the minority.

“There are concerts going on, lots of people around, and I don’t see a lot of mask-wearing,” he said.

Smith said he wasn’t aware of the upcoming mask mandate but thought it was a good idea. The bigger problem, he said, is people refusing to get vaccinated.

“I think the people not getting the vaccine are holding us back. But if people want to die, what can you do about it?” he said.

Jay Slasks and Rebecca Eggenschwiler, a married couple visiting from Washington, D.C., are both vaccinated but said they had no problem continuing to wear masks.

“It is frustrating because it feels like backsliding,” Eggenschwiler said. “I don’t have a problem wearing a mask, though, if it helps.”

Both were wearing their masks Wednesday morning at the Cosmopolitan, and they agreed that it didn’t take away from their experience.

Mask mandates might even help with the vaccine campaign, Slasks said.

“It might take a few more months, but I think as people are required to wear masks again, more will get vaccinated,” Slasks said.

Slasks said he was frustrated so many people haven’t done their part to help stamp out the virus by getting vaccinated.

“We could have gotten to herd immunity faster, then we wouldn’t have to worry about this,” Slasks said. “But that didn’t happen. If other people were vaccinated, too, we wouldn’t have this problem. People are still dying from this thing.”

Eric Mason, an auto body technician from California, said he was happy to be leaving Las Vegas today, ahead of the return of the mask mandate.

Mason, who didn’t want to reveal whether he was vaccinated, said the new rule in Nevada was just more evidence of government overreach.

“I’m done wearing masks,” Mason said. “They’re stepping on our liberties. The government thinks we’re too stupid to know what’s good for us. I think it’s the opposite. These masks only work if somebody sneezes, and I think people are smart enough to stay home if they’re sick.”

While smoking a cigarette outside the Flamingo, Mason said his anti-mask beliefs were rooted in his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

“I think our Constitution is a pretty good thing, and making us wear masks goes against it,” he said.