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Health experts advise Gaming Control Board ahead of casinos reopening

Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley

The chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, Sandra Douglass Morgan, said she expects to issue more guidance to casinos no later than Wednesday as they gear up for a likely reopening in early June.

Her comments came during a workshop Tuesday morning, where health and safety experts took center stage and outlined more recommendations. Gov. Steve Sisolak has planned a news conference Tuesday evening to discuss entering Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, which potentially includes allowing casinos to open their doors June 4.

Douglass Morgan indicated the industry notice may allow casinos to submit “alternative options” for health and safety at table games. It may also require reopening plans to include language about their commitment to responsible gaming and some additional health measures as suggested by experts.

“I’ve always been of the mind that this is a fluid situation,” Gaming Control Board member Philip Katsaros said. “Things evolve. And as things evolve and as guidance changes from our health experts, we need to update our guidance, too, so … I’m open to updating the guidance within those policy memorandums as well.”

From a health data perspective, though, officials touted the downward trend in Nevada.

Caleb Cage, Nevada’s COVID-19 response director, said the state had a cumulative test positivity rate of 12.2 percent on April 24. That figure has continually declined and, as of Monday, was 6.9 percent.

And in Southern Nevada hospitals, suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients make up only about 10 percent of acute care beds and 14 percent of intensive care unit beds, Van Houweling said. Staffing levels are considered stable, while personal protective equipment is categorized as moderate.

Gaming, the state’s main economic engine, will look considerably different as the industry strives to protect both workers and visitors from the virus. Dr. Fermin Leguen, Southern Nevada’s chief health officer, listed a series of recommendations for hotel-resorts such as giving guests an informational card about COVID-19 signs and symptoms, taking the temperature of guests and employees, providing face coverings or masks to guests and employees, installing hand sanitizer stations throughout a property, promoting and enforcing social distancing in public areas and training staff about COVID-19 safety measures.

Leguen also said the health district is advising the routine testing of all frontline employees, such as housekeepers, casino floor staff and restaurant workers. That would include testing before returning to work, two additional tests the first month and then one test every month until the end of the state’s Phase 3 reopening plan.

Additionally, Leguen said the health district strongly recommends visitors and employees wear face masks or covering. 

The control board earlier this month issued a seven-page document with health and safety policies, which already cover some of the health district’s recommendations. For instance, the policy memo says properties should heed federal, state and local health recommendations regarding personal protective equipment and provide it to employees.

“It's recommended today by not only the state but by the local health authorities that you've heard from, so licensees — regardless of their size, whether they be restricted locations or non-restricted locations — must ensure that their employees have the proper PPE  prior to reopening,” Douglass Morgan said Tuesday during the workshop. “I just want that to be very clear that has been the case since May 1.”

The workshop, however, offered a glimpse into what COVID-19 screening protocols may look like at hotel-resort properties. Mason Van Houweling, chief executive officer of University Medical Center, recommended properties check guests’ temperatures as they arrive, and, if their temperature is above 100.4 degrees, rechecking in 15 minutes. The lag time would account for any variations caused by the summer weather.

“It’s getting hot out there,” he said. “We want to make sure we get an accurate reading.”

Guests whose temperature exceeds that threshold on the second test, he said, should be directed to a designated screening room for further evaluation. That may consist of monitoring their basic vitals, consulting with a telehealth provider, collecting a lab sample or transferring the guest to a hospital if necessary. 

Southern Nevada health authorities have created a system for non-emergency medical transport so guests won’t be taking ride-share vehicles, limousines or other forms of transportation where they could potentially spread the virus if infected, Van Houweling said. Likewise, about 10 non-gaming hotels have agreed to house visitors who have tested positive for COVID-19 and need a place to quarantine.

The Gaming Control Board workshop, which lasted more than three hours, illustrated the complexities surrounding reopening a major tourism mecca. For instance, board member Terry Johnson asked how properties will handle situations where a guest exhibits symptoms but refuses medical screening. 

Van Houweling acknowledged that’s one of the concerns under discussion by health authorities.

“I think we will have those that will try to circumvent the system — not comply with some of the guidance and the rules — and we’re seeing that throughout the country,” he said. “I know that we’re talking about that and how do you manage that in a way that is safety for all.”

The board also heard concerns from people who submitted public comments, which were read during the meeting. A 17-year-old girl wrote about fearing for the health of her mother, who works as a guest room attendant on the Las Vegas Strip. She urged the board to adopt strict protections for industry workers.

“Please make sure my mom’s life is protected,” the teen wrote. “I cannot imagine my life without her.”

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