Las Vegas’ Tourism Bounces Back, and so Does the Virus
(AP) - Fifteen months after the pandemic transformed Las Vegas from flamboyant spectacle to ghost town, Sin City is back.
Tourists are streaming in again, gambling revenue has hit an all-time high, the Las Vegas Strip has its first new casino in a decade, and big concerts are starting at a gleaming new stadium. Plexiglass panels installed to separate gamblers at the poker and blackjack tables have largely been removed, the world-famous buffets are reopening, and nightclub dance floors are packed.
Vice President Kamala Harris was set to visit Saturday for what the White House is calling the “America’s Back Together” tour celebrating progress against the virus.
But that progress is threatened: Nevada this week saw the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the country, hospitalizations are on the rise again, and the highly contagious delta variant has become the most prevalent form of the virus in the state, adding urgency to the campaign to get more people vaccinated.
Still, in a place where the economy runs on crowds and uninhibited behavior, a return to pandemic-related restrictions and mask requirements seems to be off the table.
Inside the casinos, guests are not required to wear masks if they are fully vaccinated, but employees do not appear to be asking anyone for proof.
Las Vegas fully reopened and lifted restrictions on most businesses June 1, though many casino-resorts had already returned to 100% capacity before that with approval from state regulators. Visitor numbers, while not at their pre-pandemic highs, have grown by double digits four months in a row.
Shows and fireworks are scheduled for the July 4 weekend, and the new 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium where the NFL’s relocated Raiders will kick off their season this fall was set to host its first major concert Saturday, by electronic dance music star Illenium. It will be followed by a full-capacity show from Garth Brooks next weekend.
Over the past two weeks, Nevada’s diagnosis rate of 190 new cases per 100,000 people was higher than that of Missouri, Arkansas and Wyoming -- all states with lower vaccination levels — and the state public health lab found the delta variant in almost half the COVID-19 cases it analyzed.
Also, the number of patients hospitalized with the virus has grown 33% over the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though the levels are far below what they were in December, when hospitals were near capacity.
State and local officials said that almost all the new cases and hospitalizations involve unvaccinated people and that the best way to attack the problem is by getting more shots in arms. Nevada has fully vaccinated 45% of those 12 and older, well below the nationwide level of 55%, according to the CDC.