LAS VEGAS – Fifteen months after the pandemic turned Las Vegas from a blazing spectacle to a ghost town, Sin City is back.
Tourists are flocking again, gambling revenues have hit an all-time high, the Las Vegas Strip has its first new casino in a decade, and big concerts begin in a sparkling new stadium. The plexiglass panels installed to separate players at the poker and blackjack tables have largely been removed, world-famous buffets are reopening, and dance floors in nightclubs are packed.
Vice President Kamala Harris was due to visit on Saturday for what the White House calls the “America is back together” tour celebrating progress against the virus.
But that progress is under threat: Nevada this week recorded the nation’s highest rate of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations are on the rise again, and the highly contagious delta variant has become the most prevalent form of the virus in the state, adding the urgency of the campaign to vaccinate more people.
Yet in a place where the economy runs on crowds and uninhibited behavior, a return to pandemic restrictions and mask requirements seems to be out of place.
Inside casinos, customers aren’t required to wear masks if they’re fully immunized, but employees don’t appear to be asking anyone for proof.
“Looks like everything is opening up again, back to normal” Teresa Lee, a 47-year-old tourist from Nashville, Tennessee, said Thursday as she stood on the Strip, looking at the fountains outside the Bellagio Casino.
Lee said she was vaccinated and felt safe in Las Vegas because she had read about casinos’ efforts to vaccinate their employees and families.
Tyler Williams, a 22-year-old from Eugene, Oregon, said he no longer felt like there was a pandemic because âPeople are everywhere. He said he saw hardly anyone with a mask other than a few foreign tourists and felt no need to wear one himself because he is vaccinated.
Las Vegas fully reopened and lifted restrictions on most businesses on June 1, although many hotel casinos had already returned to 100% capacity before that with approval from state regulators. The number of visitors, although not reaching its pre-pandemic highs, has risen to double digits for four consecutive months.
Shows and fireworks are scheduled for the weekend of July 4, and the new 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium where the relocated NFL Raiders will kick off their season this fall was scheduled to host its first major concert on Saturday, by the star of electronic dance music Illenium. It will be followed by a full capacity Garth Brooks show next weekend.
Over the past two weeks, Nevada’s diagnostic rate of 190 new cases per 100,000 people was higher than that of Missouri, Arkansas and Wyoming – all states with lower immunization levels – and the Laboratory of State public health found the delta variant in nearly half of the COVID-19 cases it analyzed.
In addition, the number of patients hospitalized for the virus has increased by 33% over the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although the levels are well below what they were in December, when the hospitals were almost at capacity.
State biostatistician Kyra Morgan said on Friday the spike in cases could be attributed to the state and city fully reopening in June and the return of crowds and big events to the Strip could lead to prosecution. of the increase.
âIf we know anything about COVID, we know that when people congregate near each other in large volumes, this is the recipe for the transmission of COVID to increase. “ Morgan said.
National and local authorities have said that almost all new cases and hospitalizations have involved people who have not been vaccinated and that the best way to tackle the problem is to get fired more. Nevada has fully vaccinated 45% of those 12 and older, well below the national level of 55%, according to the CDC.