Officials defend mask mandate for workers 

By: - July 22, 2021 5:58 am

“While it won’t protect visitors from other visitors, the new mask mandate should provide protection for visitors when they have contact with casino employees,” said Brian Labus, a member of the governor’s medical advisory team. (Photo: Ronda Churchill)

Local and state officials are defending a partial mask mandate that appears rooted more in economics than science. 

“While it won’t protect visitors from other visitors, the new mask mandate should provide protection for visitors when they have contact with casino employees,” UNLV Associate Professor of Epidemiology Brian Labus, a member of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s medical advisory team, said via email. “We are seeing widespread community transmission in Southern Nevada at levels very high compared to the rest of the country and this could help interrupt the chain of transmission.”

The Clark County Commission Tuesday mandated that all employees working indoors in public spaces wear masks.

“We cannot afford to have major conventions decide to go elsewhere,” Clark County Commissioner Jim Gibson said Tuesday before he and his colleagues voted unanimously to require workers in Southern Nevada to don masks, while customers are free to go without.  

Gibson said the convention industry “that sustains this economy” is questioning the safety of converging in Las Vegas.  

COVID cases in America increased 55 percent in the last week, after falling off in June. Today, more than 90 million people live in counties with high transmission rates.  Nevada, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri are designated hot spots, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Last week the Southern Nevada Health District recommended that everyone wear masks while in “crowded indoor public places.” 

“My job as a doctor in public health is to do whatever I can to protect the public health from these diseases,” SNHD Chief Medical Officer Dr. Cortland Lohff told commissioners Tuesday. “I would recommend this mask mandate be implemented if the board chooses to do this.” 

But instead of following that recommendation, commissioners voted to impose the mandate on employees only. 

“Our trade show producers, their exhibitors and attendees appreciate any additional efforts we can put in place to allow them to host their show safely,” Lori Nelson-Kraft, Senior Vice-President of Communications for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said via email.  

“It shows them (the convention industry) that we are committed to keeping Las Vegas safe — one step at a time,” Commissioner Tick Segerblom told the Current.  “It’s a message they understand.”

Segerblom’s colleagues on the commission did not respond to requests for comment.  

“If the headline from this meeting is that we imposed a mandate on employees, we have all failed,” Commissioner Justin Jones said Tuesday. He ultimately joined his colleagues and voted in support of limiting the mandate to workers.

I believe everybody has to wear masks right now,” Culinary Local 226 Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello Kline said in an interview with the Current. “With the numbers we see — we have a thousand (cases) today.  Not just casino workers, but everyone in the grocery stores. Everyone has to wear masks.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a statement Tuesday supporting the County Commission’s partial ban. A spokesperson declined to say how it would alleviate concerns from the convention industry.  

“I’m not aware of a study that shows partial masking reduces risk but there is empiric evidence that any mask usage reduces the spread and particularly for those wearing the mask,” says Dr. Trudy Larson, also a member of the governor’s advisory team, adding “there should be a warning statement to patrons that notes the predominance of the Delta variant (more infectious) and that employees will be masked but that does not guarantee safety for those not masked.”

According to Johns Hopkins, 48.8 percent of Americans age 12 and up are vaccinated.  That’s far less than the estimated 80 percent of Las Vegas hotel employees who have been inoculated.  

Are visitors at greater risk from one another or from the employees with whom they interact? 

“The risk depends on the rates of disease where they are coming from and the degree of their interaction, so there is no way to make a blanket statement about the risk,” says Labus.  “However, right now, we probably have much higher disease rates in Southern Nevada as compared to where they are coming from, so that plays into it.”

Only 46 percent of Southern Nevadans have been vaccinated, according to health officials.  

“Masks have proven effective in helping to prevent people from getting and spreading COVID-19,” SNHD spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said via email. “Masks are one of the tools we have available. The COVID-19 vaccine is the most important and effective step people can take to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.” 

“Masks work best when everyone wears one,” says the Centers for Disease Control. 

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.