Following an eerie quietness on the streets of Las Vegas and scenes that have rarely, if ever, been seen before – casinos boarded up, sidewalks deserted, neon signs replaced with messages of safety, fountains still and birds chirping, life is starting to emerge again.
Having been firm about the measures that needed to be in place before any Covid-19 imposed restrictions could be lifted, Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak has announced a gradual easing of the rules. This means the state has seen at least two weeks decline in deaths and new cases, along with more widespread testing and tracking according to previous parameters he set.
Under Phase One restaurants, barbershops, hair salons and most retail business can now re-open following strict guidelines and limitations. However there are still many more businesses that must stay shut including bars, gaming venues, gyms, entertainment businesses eg cinemas.
This good news comes a week earlier that the original 15 May date Sisolak gave last week.
“I’m able to move up this announcement because as a state, we have met our gateway benchmarks for starting our reopening,” Sisolak said. He did also stress that the continued practice of social distancing was still “the best weapon” to keep the virus at bay.
“That means you must continue to avoid large gatherings and avoid being closer than six feet to other people who are not members of your own household, especially if you’re not wearing a mask,” the Governor continued. “And I’m going to go back to the mask and the face covering over and over again.”
Sisolak strongly believes that the wearing of face masks is extremely important in helping suppress the spread of COVID-19 and facial coverings will be mandatory attire for all employees of reopening businesses.
It is worth remembering that under the state plan, counties may institute their own requirements provided they are stricter but not more lenient than the state guidelines. The Governor has said that the state will need two to three weeks to review and assess how Phase One is working before confirming next steps. The current guidelines are in place until May 30.
Nevada’s tourism, leisure, hospitality and gambling industry accounts for one in three jobs in the state – making the state more dependent on tourism than Alaska on oil.
Workers are expected to lose $7.7 billion in wages and salaries over the next 18 months if the tourism industry is shuttered between 30 and 90 days, according to a study from the Nevada Resort Association.
With the industry effectively closed for more than five weeks now, more than 343,000 residents have filed for unemployment, and state and local governments could lose more than $1 billion in tax revenues.
“We will rebuild our economy. Las Vegas will continue to thrive. But I can’t do that if I lose more people,” Governor Sisolak commented.
Nevada gaming regulators have also approved minimum health and safety regulations all casinos will have to follow in order to re-open.
Key players in Vegas are confident that the Casinos, Las Vegas Slots, will start to re-open in the not too distant future. MGM Resorts as well as other Strip giants Wynn, Sands, and Caesars have already spelt out the safety measures they will be taking in order to start up business in the shadow of COVID-19 in line with the State regulators guidelines.
These are likely to include screening, mandatory masks, physical distancing, hand washing, enhanced HVAC controls, protocols for responding to positive tests and added digital tools for reducing contact. In addition all employees will be required to wear masks – guests will also be encouraged to wear masks and will be provided with them free of charge.
Acting MGM Resorts CEO Bill Hornbuckle believes Vegas may open its casino-hotels in late May or early June.
“Our properties will not look the way they used to for a while, and that’s not only okay, it’s critically important. We will continue providing the hospitality experiences we are known for, but we must do so safely.
“In the short term, there will be restrictions, like only three to a blackjack game, six to a crap table and closed buffets. So it will be different. But we still think it can be meaningful,” Hornbuckle commented in a press statement.
There will also be PPE dispensers and hand washing stations inside the company’s casinos, according to Hornbuckle.
So I guess the million dollar question is … if the Vegas resorts start to open will tourists feel safe enough to come and visit?
And the answer … Only time will tell.