Starting Wednesday at midnight, employees whose positions require them to work inside with the public in Nevada’s largest county – including Las Vegas area casinos – will need to wear a mask while on the job. That’s after the Clark County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday at a special called meeting to act after the Southern Nevada Health District issued a larger-scale recommendation last week as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
Masks will be required through at least Aug. 17 for all workers, including those who are fully vaccinated.
The mandate will not apply to customers or the general public in large gathering spaces, although there will be signs informing them SNHD recommends they also wear a mask. The seven commissioners received some passionate responses from the crowd in attendance during the three-hour meeting, and the majority vehemently opposed any requirement.
COVID cases in southern Nevada have risen about five-fold since late May, according to data from local and state health officials. That increase coincides with the state lifting COVID restrictions, which led to a significant increase in visitors to Las Vegas, and the emergence of the Delta variant, a strain highly more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus.
That led the health district to issue its recommendation on Friday for everyone to don masks in crowded settings, including grocery stores, shopping malls, large gatherings, and casinos.
Mask Mandate Seen as Pre-Emptive Strike
Commissioners said they were also taking this step as a way to avoid additional measures that potentially would bring the region’s economic recovery to a screeching halt. Just before Friday’s SNHD recommendation, Los Angeles County health officials issued an advisory urging residents in the southern California area not to travel to Las Vegas because of the growing caseload.
While the elected officials agreed to take action on the mask mandate, several also talked about the need to get more residents to get vaccinated.
“That’s really what is going to change the trajectory of where we are,” Commissioner Justin Jones said.
Only 45.5 percent of Clark County’s eligible population has completed a vaccine regimen, according to state health data. That also shows only 55.7 percent of eligible residents have received an initial dose, far below the 70 percent goal President Biden set for the country earlier this year.
Vegas Business, Gaming Industry Back Measure
While most of those in attendance at the emergency meeting spoke opposed a mask requirement, the employee-only ordinance did have the public support of key business groups, including the Vegas Chamber and the Nevada Resort Association. The latter group represents the gaming industry in the state.
NRA President Virginia Valentine told the commissioners that several casino resorts achieved 80 percent or higher employee vaccination rates, which allowed those venues to go mask-free and end social distancing before the June 1 official reopening. However, she added the organization and its members would support the measure as long as the county provided clear guidelines and gave operators time to implement the requirements across their facilities.
The recommendations from the Southern Nevada Health District are important reminders that masks, after vaccinations, are the most effective tool we have in reducing spread and for protecting people who are not vaccinated so they can protect themselves and other people,” she said.
David Dazlich, government affairs director for the chamber, said that several of its members had already reinstated masks for its workers out of precaution.
Several Vegas casinos did so as well after the district issued its recommendation. That included Las Vegas Sands, which operates the Venetian and Palazzo casino resorts and The Sands Expo Convention Center.
Doctor: Masked Employees Set “Expectation” for Others
After an hour of taking public comments, the commissioners spoke with SNHD Chief Medical Officer Dr. Cort Lohff regarding what district officials saw that prompted them to issue their recommendation last week.
In his questioning of Dr. Lohff, Commissioner Ross Miller brought up the fact that a large sector of workers in the gaming industry agreed to get the shots back in the spring with the understanding that if they did, they would not need masks on the job.
“What’s the public health benefit to mandating – in the context where we have verified that they’re vaccinated – to requiring everyone to wear masks across the board?” Miller asked.
Lohff explained that “it’s just easier” for everyone to be required because “it’s hard to know if they’re actually vaccinated.”
Miller also said that he’s heard that maskless employees – at casinos and other public places – leads to customers and others not wearing them. Lohff concurred with that line of thinking.
“It creates some expectation that perhaps the customer should be wearing the mask as well,” Lohff said.
Jones wanted more than just an expectation. He successfully pushed for businesses to post signs saying the area health district recommends everyone should wear a mask.
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