Health officials from popular tourist destinations like Los Angeles and Las Vegas are asking more people to mask up indoors.
The Southern Nevada Health District is now recommending people wear masks in crowded indoor public places – including Las Vegas casinos – regardless of vaccination status, according to a Friday statement.
The announcement comes one day after Los Angeles County announced that it would reinstate an indoor masking policy due to a recent surge in new COVID-19 cases. More counties in California followed with mask recommendations Friday.
The mask guidelines are meant to help quell the spread of COVID and the highly contagious delta variant, which has caused an uptick in daily cases in some regions across the U.S.
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Why are masking recommendations changing?
The Southern Nevada Health District said it was updating its guidance Friday, since “using masks correctly has proven to be effective in helping to prevent people from getting and spreading COVID-19.”
Eight more areas in California – Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties and the City of Berkeley – on Friday recommended both vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear masks indoors in public spaces.
The guidance is a precaution for those fully vaccinated and meant “to ensure easy verification that all unvaccinated people are masked in those settings,” according to a joint statement.
The daily COVID case count has been climbing in both Nevada and California in recent weeks.
California reported 4,651 new cases – 5.4 per 100,000 people – on Friday, according to the state’s website. About 52% of people are fully vaccinated in the state.
Daily COVID cases in Southern Nevada – where the Delta variant is the dominant strain – have returned to levels not seen since February. More than half of the state’s eligible population is not fully vaccinated.
Clark County – the home of the Las Vegas Strip – continues to account for the bulk of COVID-19 cases in the state as well as the highest incidence rate. Nearly 78% of COVID-19 cases in Nevada occurred there.
Brian Labus, an epidemiologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says the Southern Nevada Health Department is trying to combat the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
“Our numbers are trending in the wrong direction,” Labus said. “Our recommendations have to change to match what the virus is doing.”
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Los Angeles County:To require masks indoors — regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status
What does this mean for travelers?
Nevada health officials are pushing for more mask-wearing, but visitors may not heed their advice.
“We don’t see very many people in public wearing masks (in Las Vegas), unfortunately,” Labus said. “People have kind of rejected that guidance and are just not wearing masks, and I don’t know how much this recommendation will really change that.”
The Nevada Gaming Control Board would have the authority to reimpose mask mandates on Las Vegas casinos but made no changes as of Friday. The board declined to comment.
Labus said health officials will need to consider political and economic consequences before reimposing COVID restrictions or mask mandates.
Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates The Venetian on the Strip, said it would require vaccinated and unvaccinated staff to wear face masks while working in public indoor areas, but the resort is not requiring masks among guests.
MGM Resorts International, which runs the Bellagio and other Strip resorts, is “closely monitoring the situation” but did not change its masking policy Friday, according to spokesman Brian Ahern. Both MGM and Sands plan to post signs at public entrances sharing the new masking recommendation.
Dr. Hana Hakim, an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases, said it’s not clear whether more face masking policies will be implemented. That will depend on vaccination rates and more data on the prevalence of breakthrough infections, or COVID cases in those fully vaccinated, she said.
“Understanding the impact of the delta variant on vaccine efficacy will be essential in the re-masking implementation decision,” Hakim said via email. “For now, the critical message would be ‘get vaccinated.'”
Casino consultant Debi Nutton said she doesn’t expect the recommendation to curb pent-up travel demand Las Vegas has been benefiting from in recent months.
“Right now, travel to Las Vegas is high,” she said. “I think our guests are comfortable. … I don’t know if this is going to have a huge impact.”
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Contributing: Ed Komenda, Reno Gazette-Journal.