Las Vegas hotel-casinos prepare for June 4 reopening

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada casinos will be able to open June 4, when they will have been closed for more than 11 weeks to prevent crowds from gathering and spreading the coronavirus, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Tuesday night.

Nevada gambling regulators said earlier that day that they may require the state’s shuttered casinos to test all front-line resort workers for COVID-19, plan to isolate infected visitors and take other steps to slow the coronavirus spread before they can reopen.

“This agency, our health officials, the governor. We’re all concerned with the safety of employees, all the visitors, all the guests — the folks that have potentially contracted” COVID-19, state Gaming Control Board Member Phil Katsaros said near the end of a nearly three-hour rule-making workshop. “That’s why we’re here. That’s why we shut down a multibillion-dollar economy.”

In a statement Tuesday night, Sisolak said he would allow casinos to reopen June 4 and in-person religious services of up to 50 people starting Friday.

By allowing the casinos to reopen, with new rules on social distancing and sanitizing, Sisolak said Nevada would again welcome visitors but would be prepared to close down again if there is a spike in cases.

“We’ve taken every precaution possible. I don’t think you’re going to find a safer place to come than Las Vegas by June 4, with the protocols that we’ve put in place, than the testing that we’ve put in place, with the contact tracing that will be in place by that time,” Sisolak said. “We’re encouraging visitors to come and enjoy themselves and have a good time.”

Sisolak had canceled a news conference Tuesday after learning that he visited a work place last week where an employee who was not in the building at the time later tested positive for the virus.

Sisolak has shown no symptoms of COVID-19 but said he was canceling “out of an abundance of caution.” He said he planned to take a test for the virus Wednesday morning and is quarantining in the governor’s mansion in Carson City until he gets results.

Nevada health officials reported the number of COVID-19 tests administered statewide at nearly 143,000 and the number of confirmed cases at almost 8,000, with at least 396 deaths.

University Medical Center chief executive Mason Van Houweling said the percentage of positives among those tested in Nevada, now 5.6%, is well below the World Health Organization recommendation of 10% and less than half the April 23 peak of 12.2%.

“I can firmly say that anybody that wants a test or requires a test has availability to get a test in the state,” the head of Nevada’s only public hospital said. He and Dr. Anthony Slonim, head of Renown Health in Reno said hospitals are not close to capacity in room use, intensive care beds or ventilators needed.

Gaming Board Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan promised what she called a final “industry notice” by Wednesday with rules for casinos to reopen. That would give the state’s nearly 460 top-level gambling license holders the seven-plus days’ notice the board promised for enacting plans to sanitize surfaces, keep gamblers safe distances apart and protect workers.

“We’re still in the response phase and we all know that,” Morgan said. “We’re finding a way to get to the recovery phase.”

Culinary workers’ union executive Geoconda Argüello-Kline termed the board’s decisions “life or death” for tens of thousands of workers who clean hotel rooms, serve cocktails and come in direct contact with tourists.

“When we reopen the casinos, guests from all over the country, perhaps all over the world, will come,” Argüello-Kline said in a statement to the board. “What happens if someone who arrives in Vegas asymptomatic develops symptoms here and decides to hole up in their room for a couple of days instead of asking for medical attention?”

Van Houweling said about 10 hotel properties in the Las Vegas area “have agreed to accept positive guests for lodging services.” He did not name them.

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Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed.

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