Masks no longer required at several major Las Vegas casinos: Where you still need to mask up
CARSON CITY, Nev. – The masks are coming off (again).
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday announced the state would no longer require people to wear face coverings in all indoor public places, adding to a nationwide cascade of COVID-19 policy reversals in the past week.
Sisolak pointed to a decline in case counts and hospitalizations, along with the broader availability of coronavirus testing, among the reasons why he felt it was time to ditch masks.
"I’m doing what I think is best to protect the health and welfare of the residents of the state of Nevada," he said, noting that decision was based on science, "balancing all the factors and all the data that’s been presented to me."
The decision, which took effect immediately, does not apply to public transportation, airports, hospitals, health care clinics and other places serving vulnerable populations.
Private businesses, like casinos, and school districts may also mandate masks, though the state would not require them for teachers as of Friday.
"If a particular school board wants to go further, or a particular business wants to go further than my directive has, and require masks and various things, they're entitled to do that," Sisolak said.
Some casino workers will keep wearing masks
After Sisolak’s announcement, the Nevada Gaming Control Board quickly followed with an order lifting the face-covering rule for casinos "unless a local jurisdiction still imposes such a requirement."
MGM Resorts promptly pivoted. "Effective immediately, guests and employees are no longer required to wear masks indoors or outdoors," MGM Resorts CEO & President Bill Hornbuckle wrote in a letter to employees, noting exceptions where government-issued mandates remain in place in Massachusetts, Maryland and Michigan.
MGM's Nevada properties include ARIA, Bellagio, Delano, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Park MGM, The Mirage, New York-New York, Vdara and T-Mobile Arena. Mask requirements were also lifted at MGM Resorts in Mississippi, New Jersey, New York and Ohio.
Wynn Resorts Ltd., which operates Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, will also no longer require masks inside Las Vegas properties. Las Vegas Sands' The Venetian is dropping its mask requirement for guests and staff as well.
The Strip's newest megaresort, Resorts World Las Vegas,went so far as to post a video about the end of the mask mandate on Twitter, mixing a clip of Sisolak's announcement with shots of guests partying at its clubs.
USA TODAY has reached out to several other casino chains to check for changes to mask policies.
Tom Maloney, hotel manager at the Atlantis Casino in Reno, said there was "a bit of a celebration," especially among the guests, when the governor announced the end of the mask mandate. But he said he plans on continuing to mask up at work.
"The team members are a little more hesitant ... because we come in contact with so many people of the public. We don't know ... what their status is," he said.
Cynthia Ruiz and Cecilia Alberto, who work at the dessert station at Toucan Charlie's in the Atlantis, both said they will continue to wear masks while working.
Ruiz said she is scared of getting sick.
Alberto added that the end of the mask mandate is good for customers who didn't like wearing masks. She also expects to be busy as more customers will come to the casino and restaurants.
State of emergency stays in place
Sisolak did not rule out reimplementing stricter rules in the event of a future spike in cases, nor say when he might rescind the state’s two-year-old state of emergency declaration.
Nevada implemented its first COVID-19 mask mandate in June 2020, three weeks after the cautious reopening of casinos and nearly a month after allowing limited operations to resume at most other "nonessential" businesses.
Roughly a year later – and not long after Sisolak signaled he’d be willing to let local officials handle future coronavirus policy fights – the governor issued an emergency order requiring people in counties with high COVID-19 transmission rates to wear masks indoors. The announcement arrived hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors in areas of high coronavirus transmission.
Nevada's students and teachers have been required to wear masks in schools since August 2021, despite ongoing frustrations over enforcing that rule.
Sisolak said he did not see Nevada’s abrupt departure from CDC guidance as a rejection of the agency’s expertise.
"The CDC guidelines were put in place prior to delta, which is a very different variant," he added. "Things have changed, and you have to balance everything.
"Regardless of what decision I make, people will say ‘you did it too soon’ or ‘you did it too late.’ I get that. Everybody has an opinion."
Prior to Thursday’s announcement, Nevada was one of just six states with an intact mask mandate.
Latest COVID-19 data
As of Tuesday, 67% of Nevada's population 5 and older had initiated vaccination, with 56% fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data compiled by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.
Nevada ranks 32nd in vaccination rates among the 50 states and District of Columbia, according to the Mayo Clinic.
"COVID-19 hospitalization continues to fall but remains higher than the previous Delta wave," the Nevada Hospital Association wrote in its weekly update on Wednesday, noting that hospital staffing levels in southern Nevada and rural hospitals remain at crisis level.
To date, Nevada has reported 9,270 coronavirus-related deaths after nearly two years of the pandemic. The state has been averaging 14 deaths per day from COVID-19 over the past two weeks.
Contributing: Bailey Schulz, Eve Chen, USA TODAY; Associated Press