New normal acknowledged: In Nevada, Gov. Sisolak directs masks for locals, visitors By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports June 24, 2020 at 10:00 pm Las Vegas is the party capital of just about everywhere, but how do you celebrate in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic? Very carefully, my friend, very carefully. But that doesn’t mean hope is lost or business can’t be conducted (if not as usual). The challenge is getting it right, and Nevada’s Gov. Steve Sisolak finds himself frustrated by that calculus as many states in the region loosen their restrictions on social distancing. For its part, Nevada has been reopening gradually, and the gaming industry has been doing a real Cirque du Soleil backbend to try to follow medical guidelines without looking like a belt-and-suspenders operation. At least superficially, it’s been successful. But when COVID-19 cases spiked this past week, not even the coronavirus deniers could argue with using common sense to maintain the better status quo. And so on Wednesday evening Sisolak called for masks all around – something I think he should have done from the outset – in the name of stopping the spike in potentially deadly cases. Universal masking is essential for Nevada to remain open for business. Say it ain’t so? It’s so. And it’s been obvious from the start. Nevada’s greatest economic driver, the gaming industry, can’t operate for long without a warm embrace of its millions of customers. This isn’t political. This is just a reality. Universal masking is the way to go. “On the other hand, masking in only 50 percent of the population is not sufficient to prevent continued spread,” Sisolak said at a Wednesday evening announcement from Carson City. “We owe it to each other. We owe it to each other to accept the fact that wearing facemasks coverings saves lives. We owe it to the many workers, the healthcare professionals, retail clerks, restaurant workers, grocery store employees to accept that fact as the truth.” And Nevada’s many businesses, “large and small,” should accept that fact, Sisolak said. It’s something Culinary Local 226 and its parent organization UNITE-HERE have argued for weeks that more precautions were needed to protect workers and customers. (It was also strongly suggested by CDC Gaming Reports Executive Editor Howard Stutz last week.) Medical masks and other facial protection are becoming common in Las Vegas/Shutterstock The local’s more than 60,000 members constitute a substantial part of the front-line service workers on the Las Vegas Strip and downtown’s Fremont Street casino districts. Their concerns have been published and broadcast widely, and the calls for increased scrutiny and action – not always appreciated in politically sensitive circles – provide a reminder of what genuine leadership looks like. They have to be pleased with the results of their efforts, and the rank-and-file are better off for it. The Nevada Gaming Control Board has been professional in its approach to taking the appropriate precautions during the coronavirus pandemic as the state’s casinos have gradually reopened. The board updated its health and safety policy last week, announcing it was mandating all gamblers to wear masks when sitting at tables with no barriers. It’s a completely well-reasoned adjustment, but frankly, it shouldn’t have had to be made. All the players should already have been wearing masks. Everyone should be whether they’re shooting dice at Mandalay Bay or ordering drinks downtown. It’s not even a close call, and it has nothing to do with political freedom. It was great when Caesars Entertainment, anticipating a change from the top in Nevada, mandating mask wearing for all on casino grounds. But it was also, you know, kind of a no-brainer. Not that most casino corporations aren’t giving it an effort. Set one foot inside a mega-resort, or even a locals casino, and you’ll notice the changes from the presence of Plexiglass in the gaming areas to 100 percent of staff wearing masks and practicing reasonable precautions. What we haven’t seen is substantial compliance by tourists understandably hungry for the good times a visit to Las Vegas provides. And that’s bound to have consequences, not just on the ground in Nevada, but when those visitors return home. This isn’t the only reason wearing masks should have been mandatory in Nevada from the start, but it’s a good one. In that regard, Sisolak followed the path of the majority of governors who tried to strike an effective middle ground when it came to making the painful decision to shutter nonessential business, close schools, and roll out the social distancing rules suggested by the medical professionals. Failing to fully acknowledge these challenging times comes with consequences. Employees at the Flamingo have tested positive for the coronavirus and restaurants inside the Bellagio and Linq have closed after workers came down with COVID-19. And it could get much worse both on the ground in the party capital and back home where folks usually regale their friends with their big trip to Vegas. Nevada has rejoined the ranks of states with rising COVID-19 cases. On Monday, 330 new cases were reported, and the state’s death toll is reaching the 500 mark. The highest single-day increases since the pandemic began are now being recorded. Nevada is at a turning point that should transcend politics. “We’re not in a post-COVID time,” Sisolak said recently. “We’re in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic. We’re right dead-smack in the middle of it.” It’s long past time everyone remembered that whether they’re partying on the Strip or stuck in line at the supermarket. A mask is a small price to pay for a future without COVID-19. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.