To mask or not to mask, that is the question By Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports May 2, 2021 at 7:45 pm Wearing a mask and getting vaccinated are major topics of conversation these days; nationally, locally and personally, we are debating the right and wrong things to do. And everyone has a different idea, it seems. In Mississippi, for example, the Gaming Commission lifted its COVID restrictions beginning May1. Casino customers and employees are no longer required to wear masks or maintain social distancing. As was to be expected, some casinos were overjoyed. At the Scarlet Peral in D’Iberville, the CEO was jubilant. “Friday at 5 p.m., we’re like Mr. Rogers in the neighborhood,” said Scarlet Pearl CEO LuAnn Pappas. “It’s the best day ever. We are going to lift the mask mandate and stop taking temperatures.” The MGM in Biloxi took another tack in response to the announcement. MGM will continue to maintain the restrictions. “For the safety of our employees and guests, we will continue to require masks at MGM Resorts properties at this time. As vaccination efforts continue, we will reassess our health and safety protocols consistent with guidance from health experts, changing regulatory requirements, and input from our guests and employees,” said a company announcement. Likewise, Tunica County has not lifted its mask requirements. The casinos in Tunica still require masking by both customers and employees. It is not just a Mississippi debate. The Indiana Gaming Commission said its restrictions, including masks, will remain in place until June 1. The issue that is holding up some casinos, cities, counties and states from loosening their mask mandates is vaccination. Like the MGM in Biloxi, many are watching the vaccination rate. In two interviews in a casino parking lot in Tunica, customers voiced the issue. One couple said, “Most people are getting vaccinated, so we think it is okay take off the masks.” Another customer who had driven a hundred miles to get to Tunica for a change in scenery, said the opposite. “I think it is still too early to let down our guard; too many people still have not been vaccinated.” Vaccination is a worldwide issue and many countries have been unable to vaccinate those who wish to be. India cannot produce or import enough vaccine. It is reporting 400,000 new cases of COVID a day and hospitals don’t have enough beds or oxygen. Even in Western Europe, vaccine supplies are limited. On the other hand, the United States has adequate supplies for those who wish to be vaccinated, due to government programs to speed up development and facilitate distribution of vaccines. It is estimated that over a third of the population has been vaccinated. Another third will probably get vaccinated before winter, but the last third is opposed to vaccination in principle. Is 60-70 percent enough to protect everyone and allow public gatherings to return to the pre-pandemic conditions? That is question for Indiana, Biloxi and Tunica; as well as the major league sports, concerts, theme parks, schools and airlines. It is proving to be a difficult question to answer. In Reeds Springs, Missouri, the school district noted there had been no new cases within the system for weeks. It elected to allow students to stop wearing masks on April 22. Eight days later, there were six new cases. The school district reversed its position and reintroduced the mask mandate. The Nevada Gaming Control Board is reducing its restrictions and allowing up to 80 percent occupancy in its casinos beginning May 1 and on June 1, all restrictions will be lifted and with that entertainment and conventions can return. That will be a major test for Nevada. If all goes well and there is no surge in new cases, the crisis is over. If, on the other hand, there is a surge, all bets are off. Then it is likely that Nevada will be forced to re-mask and to impose a vaccinate mandate. The groundwork for a vaccine passport is being laid. People who have been received the shots are issued vaccination cards; the card can be used as proof of vaccination. Requiring proof is a touchy subject. To many, that would be a violation of their fundamental rights as citizens of this country—in short, unconstitutional. Those people maintain the government cannot require vaccination, much less proof of it. Few casino operators would choose to require proof of vaccination. However, casinos are regulated and must comply with the regulations. If the Nevada Gaming Commission requires proof of vaccination from anyone entering a casino, casinos will enforce that edict. It is not something anyone wants, unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Regardless of how it works out, we are all going to be faced with some difficult choices this year. Just like the MGM and Scarlet Pearl, dropping the mask is more complicated than we imagined a few months ago. The same will be true of vaccination. Being vaccinated is already the price of admission in many private groups. Among my family and friends, it has become the rule, but even with that, I am reluctant to give up my mask. Indeed, Hamlet, that is the question, to mask or not to mask. And that is assuming the prince of Denmark has been vaccinated.