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Nevada Gaming regulators told Nevada’s healthcare system ‘can take care of’ casino visitors with COVID-19

Las Vegas Sun - When Las Vegas casinos reopen, the region’s health care infrastructure will be able to handle any potential spikes in COVID-19 cases, University Medical Center CEO Mason VanHouweling said.

“I’m very confident our health care system can take care of not only our current population, but also as we continue to open up in phase two and phase three and get back to business,” VanHouweling said via video conference at a Gaming Control Board coronavirus workshop today.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is expected to talk about possible plans to further open the state’s economy during a news conference scheduled for today.

Last week, Sisolak indicated casinos could be allowed to reopen June 4 if the state continues to meet certain health and safety benchmarks.

“Without a thoughtful and measured reopening of Nevada’s gaming industry, all of the work that Nevadans have done to fight the spread of this viral pandemic will have been for naught,” Sisolak said last week.

Sandra Douglass Morgan, chairwoman of the three-person Gaming Control Board, said the agency will likely provide additional guidance to gaming and resort operators following Sisolak’s comments today.

That guidance could be released Wednesday morning, she said.

Today’s three-hour workshop featured presentations by VanHouweling, Southern Nevada Health District acting Chief Health Officer Fermin Leguen, Clark County Fire Chief and Emergency Manager John Steinbeck and Caleb Cage, Sisolak’s COVID-19 response director.

VanHouweling said about 70% of Southern Nevada’s 4,500 hospital beds are in use.About 10% of those beds are being used by people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or are suspected of having the coronavirus, he said.

“That’s a good news story,” VanHouweling said. “Another good news story is ventilators. Only about 27% of our ventilators are currently in use. Of that 27%, only 23% are on COVID-19 patients.”

Of the more than 600 intensive care unit beds at Southern Nevada hospitals, about 76% are occupied. Only about 14% are being used by COVID-19 patients, VanHouweling said.

If additional beds are needed because of a spike in COVID-19 patients, a temporary 900-bed hospital could be set up in three days at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Steinbeck said.

While the Gaming Control Board has allowed some casino restaurants to reopen, nightclubs and theaters are not expected to open during the second phase of Sisolak’s reopening plan.

Some submitted comments at the workshop urged a ban on smoking in casinos. Morgan, however, said that any change to smoking rules must come from lawmakers.

The allowance of smoking inside casinos is part of the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, which was passed by Nevada votes in 2006 and later amended by lawmakers.

“The Legislature has specifically stated that smoking is not prohibited in casinos,” Deputy Attorney General Darlene Caruso said. “The statute even includes a provision that says that any regulation inconsistent with that will be null and void. At this time, the board’s hands are tied and the Legislature would have to speak on that issue.”

On the Strip, not all gaming properties are expected to open initially.

Caesars Entertainment has said it plans for open Caesars Palace and Flamingo first, while MGM Resorts International plans to start with the Bellagio and New York-New York.

“We will be prepared to operate in compliance with GCB’s requirements when we reopen,” a Caesars spokesman said today.

Health officials said guest temperature screening should be in place when casinos open. A number of resort operators have already announced plans to screen guests and workers for fevers.

If a guest at a Las Vegas resort is diagnosed with the virus, about 10 nongaming hotels have agreed to put them up for a quarantine period, VanHouweling said.

VanHouweling did not name the hotels but said resort officials have been notified that a network is in place.

Cage, Sisolak’s COVID-19 response director, said state health officials have a goal of testing 2% of Nevada’s population each month for the next year.

To date, about 133,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in the state.

As of Tuesday, state health officials reported 7,998 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nevada and 396 virus-related deaths.