Taking cue from public health department

The Venetian, Palazzo, and Sands Expo & Convention Center are re-instituting face mask requirements for employees following new recommendations from the Southern Nevada Health District. All three properties are owned and operated by Las Vegas Sands Corp., though they will soon be under new ownership after VICI Properties and Apollo Global Management teamed up to buy them for $6.25 billion in March.

In a Friday press release, the Health District said, “As COVID-19 case counts and the positivity rate continues to increase in our community, the Southern Nevada Health District is now recommending both unvaccinated and vaccinated people wear masks in crowded indoor public places where they may have contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.”

It added that it’s (emphasis ours), “….recommendation to wear masks in crowded public settings, including grocery stores, malls, large events, and casinos, is a step to fully utilize the tools we have available to stop the pandemic.”

The Health District emphasized that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is the “most important and effective step” toward protecting oneself and the community against the virus.

Balancing act

Despite the recommendation for everyone to wear masks indoors in crowded venues, Las Vegas Sands is only requiring employees to wear company-issued masks. A Sands spokesperson said, “In addition, we have revised our signs posted at public entrances to share this new SNHD recommendation. Complimentary face masks are available to our guests at front desks, Grazie desks and concierge desks.”

Amanda Belarmino, assistant professor at the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at UNLV, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the hospitality and gaming industries are “in a very tricky place” as COVID-19 cases start to rise once again and people have effectively gotten “back to normal” around the country.

“On the one hand, our properties are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines by not requiring masks, so they are following the science,” Belarmino said. “Additionally, the data we have seen on the delta variant has indicated that those who are fully vaccinated will not develop COVID-19. However, with the increase in the number of cases, it does make sense for there to be some return to masks.”

The problem is that much of the U.S. population rejected mask and stay-at-home mandates during the peak of the pandemic (not necessarily refusing to abide by regulations, but at least following rules/guidelines very begrudgingly), so any attempt to impose restrictions again will almost certainly not work.

Belarmino suggests a compromise of sorts in the hospitality industry “….where employees return to wearing masks, masks are available for customers, in the guest rooms and at the entrance, and consider a return to more visible cleaning standards.”

“I would love to see commercials with vaccinated casino employees encouraging others in the community to be vaccinated and to reach out to their doctors with any concerns so we can help prevent a new surge in cases,” she added.

There has not quite been a surge yet, but Nevada and most of the rest of the country are most definitely in an “uptick” situation right now. Nevada’s seven-day moving average of new daily COVID-19 cases was 558 yesterday, down from 710 last Thursday. Even with the downward move over the weekend, that figure is still the highest it has been since mid-February.

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