Nevada gaming industry and Culinary local are raising voices against COVID – and can do more By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports August 11, 2021 at 7:19 pm Even his critics would admit Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has an unenviable task these days. Juggling the physical, mental, and economic health of Nevadans through the ongoing coronavirus crisis is no mean feat. But The New York Times raised an intriguing question this past weekend in its update of corporations’ and organized labor’s rapidly evolving real-time response to the withering impact of COVID-19. Not surprisingly, the 60,000-member Culinary Local 226 was mentioned as a labor organization that has continued to press for increased pandemic safety for its casino industry service workers. That in itself is no great surprise. Proactive representation of workers strikes at the heart of the union’s mission. With the governor shadowing the changing CDC guidelines on mask restrictions, which were relaxed at the start of what appeared to be a summer of steady recovery from the deadly virus prior to the outbreak of the Delta variant that has sent infection rates rocketing again, the state’s chief appeared ready to celebrate victory. Culinary Workers Union Local 226 We know now that any revelry, including the state’s decision to hand out cash and prizes in an attempt to increase vaccination rates, was premature at the very least. Per the Times, it appears Sisolak and Culinary are back on the same page now that the CDC has again upped its recommended restrictions. “Some unions may have been spared a fight by the CDC’s move on Tuesday,” the article understates. “In Las Vegas, the Culinary Workers Union, which represents casino workers, has been calling for the return of a mask requirement for all customers indoors since Nevada relaxed the requirements in May. The casinos had not heeded the call, but after the CDC announcement, the state said it would reimpose an indoor mask mandate.” The greater context of the Culinary and the casino industry is important. All across the nation, corporations, industries, and the organized-labor organizations that represent many thousands of workers are increasingly aware of the likelihood of even more restrictions and modifications in the weeks ahead. The representatives of some of those companies and workers are trying to get ahead of the curve. With few exceptions, they appear to be willing to work faster than their counterparts in government. That’s in part understandable, given the differing roles. It’s not news that government doesn’t run like a business – and wasn’t designed to. In Thursday’s press conference, Sisolak urged Nevadans to step up their game to slow the spread of the virus by getting vaccinated, including those 12 and older. He didn’t announce new restrictions or mandates, but he gave some strong hints. “Let me be clear, vaccines are the way out of this pandemic,” Sisolak said. “I need everyone out there to encourage their family members and encourage their friends to get the vaccine. Office of Governor Steve Sisolak “… Unless we increase our vaccination rates quickly, the virus will have time to mutate, the unvaccinated will continue to fill our hospitals and place unnecessary strain on our ability to treat all patients, and our economic progress will be threatened. That’s why we’re masking – to slow the spread as more Nevadans, as soon as possible, roll up their sleeves and get their shots.” From where I was sitting, the remarks still fell short of the mark. Sisolak pointed out that thousands of soccer fans who turned out for the Gold Cup Finals at Allegiant Stadium had to be masked to enter the facility, then quickly let them drop once inside. The same is true for large concerts and other sporting events. Thanks in no small part to some people playing politics with a dangerous virus, the mask message remains mixed at best. Although no one likes to be scolded about their behavior, I think a stronger message needs to be sent by teams and performers and corporations if elected officials are going to take a more measured approach. The governor alluded to the possibility of compelling students, at some point, to be vaccinated before attending colleges in person, though not this semester. The same goes for vulnerable populations. He asked his medical advisory team for its professional opinion on compelling vaccinations for those in care facilities and the homeless. Mandatory vaccines for work, play, and public circulation aren’t a complete answer given the challenges the virus presents, but it makes more sense than waiting – even until September when the FDA is expected to fully approve the COVID vaccines. Perhaps of more importance to the casino industry, Sisolak also talked about finding ways to make large gatherings, such as concerts and sporting events, safer, given the wicked spread of the Delta variant and the possibility of other complications to come. For now at least, most of the stakeholders appear to be on the same page, despite an extremely noisy anti-mask and anti-vaccine contingent in the state. Here is where, I believe, the casino industry at all levels can show game-changing leadership. Simply by requiring masks of all customers and vaccines for all employees is a start. Mandated or not, it’s not too much to ask with new strains of COVID endangering young and old alike. No industry in Nevada can do more to proactively turn the tide and erase the stigma of mask wearing and medically accepted best practices than the gaming industry. If it shows that it’s cool to mask up when you party down, that’s not only good for business, but the customers and community as well.