Nevada’s advancement to Phase Two of the state’s reopening got off to an inauspicious start when Gov. Steve Sisolak cancelled an in-person news conference on the plan Tuesday “out of an abundance of caution” after possibly being exposed to COVID-19.
“Late last week Gov. Sisolak had visited a work place (sic) where an employee – who was not in the building at the time – has since reported testing positive for COVID-19. The Governor’s Office learned of the positive test result on Tuesday.”
Sisolak, who plans to be tested Wednesday for COVID-19, has been self-isolating since learning of the possible exposure, according to Communications Director Meghin Delaney.
Late Tuesday evening Sisolak released prepared remarks and held a phone conference with reporters to discuss the Roadmap to Recovery of Phase Two, which begins Friday. Gatherings that were previously limited to ten persons will be allowed to expand to fifty.
Adult entertainment clubs, strip clubs, night and day clubs, brothels, and sporting events with fans will remain shuttered during Phase Two.
Gaming is permitted to resume on June 4.
“I don’t think you’ll find a safer place to come than Las Vegas,” Sisolak said when asked whether tourists would be welcomed back to Nevada.
Sisolak said he anticipates employees will be on the front lines when it comes to educating guests about social distancing protocol, but the governor hinted the Gaming Control Board may have a physical presence in casinos.
“I don’t want to give away their plan,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday, the Gaming Control Board held a workshop via Zoom to discuss parameters for the reopening of casinos.
“I urge everyone to proceed very deliberately and very carefully,” Culinary Local 226 Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello Kline said during public comment. The union represents some 60,000 hotel workers including housekeepers, cocktail waitresses, and food servers.
The union is fighting to protect the physical and economic health of its workers.
Arguello-Kline noted that suggestions such as scaling back on daily room cleaning in favor of a deep cleaning before check-in forces employers to choose “between safety and profit.”
“We need to provide daily cleaning of guest rooms to ensure early and prompt detection of potential COVID-19 cases,” Arguello-Kline told the Gaming Control Board. “What happens if someone who arrives in Vegas asymptomatic, develops symptoms here, and decides to hole up in their room for a couple of days instead of asking for medical attention?”
Southern Nevada Health District Acting Chief Health Officer Fermin Leguen noted COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting minorities such as African Americans, Hispanics and Asians — the people who work in hotels, he said. He recommended that all frontline employees such as housekeepers, restaurant and casino staff be tested before resorts reopen, and retested once every two weeks for the first month and monthly until the end of Phase Three.
So far, more than 142,000 Nevadans have been tested for COVID-19 and 7,998 are positive. The number of Nevadans who have died is just shy of 400, according to data provided by the state.
Nevada officials are setting a goal of testing 2 percent of the population per month, says COVID-19 response official Caleb Cage.
UMC Chief Executive Officer Mason VanHouweling says UMC is testing hotel workers and working with McCarran Airport “to identify layers of protection for residents and visitors coming through the airport.”
The public hospital is recommending that hotel guests be screened upon check in, given a temperature check and offered a mask. Those with a temperature of 100.4 would be asked to mask and rechecked in 15 minutes.
Those who still have an elevated temperature would be referred to a secondary screening area “in close proximity to the lobby to allow EMS access, if needed.”
UMC has agreements with close to a dozen non-gaming hotels to provide lodging for guests who require a 14-day quarantine.
Gaming Control Board member Terry Johnson inquired whether resorts can require a guest to be tested.
“We’ll have those who will try to circumvent the system, and not comply with the rules,” VanHouweling responded.
Control Board Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan noted that despite a number of requests during public comment for casinos to reopen smoke-free, any prohibition on smoking in a casino would have to be amended by state lawmakers.
Douglass Morgan said the state is not able to release plans for reopening submitted by individual licensees but did say all will be required to train workers and provide adequate personal protective equipment. She also said employees should be educated on guest protocols “so they know what’s expected of patrons.”
Will employees be called on to police patrons or will that be left to the state?
“These are uncharted waters for both the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the gaming industry,” the Board said in a statement to the Current. “That said, compliance will be key to ensuring the effectiveness of these measures. The Board is confident that the gaming industry will implement whatever measures are deemed necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their employees and guests; however the Nevada Gaming Control Board will continue to strictly enforce gaming statutes and regulations.”
Douglass Morgan noted that licensees are expected to follow recommendations of federal, state and local health officials, with the exception, she suggested, of the Centers for Disease Controls admonishment to limit public gatherings to no more than 250 people.
“I would recommend that reference to the CDC guideline be removed,” she said.
This story was updated to include the governor’s remarks.