For two months I’ve been writing in this space about how COVID-19 rates in the Las Vegas area were far higher than the national average. That was before the Delta variant pulled up the rates everywhere. But Vegas is still near the top, with nearly1,000 new cases a day!Yesterday, authorities reported 28 COVID-19 deaths in Las Vegas. That was nearly 8% of the national fatality total, even though the Las Vegas metro area population is only 0.7% of the national population. It probably will not surprise you to know that Las Vegas has one of the country’s lowest vaccination rates.
So what are local governmental leaders doing to fight the pandemic? In my view, not nearly enough.
Earlier this week, the Clark County Commission voted to impose a mask mandate–but not on everybody. Not even, it seems, on even half the folks hereabouts.
The new mandate, which took effect last night at midnight, applies only to indoors workers at businesses and not their customers. Most businesses have a lot more customers than employees. The exclusion would include the hundreds of thousands of tourists who make their way here in the course of a typical week, crowding the many casino floors along the Las Vegas Strip. The commission says it will take another look at the situation in a month. Social distancing–remember that?–seems a remedy of the distant past.
Now, I know that masks aren’t as effective as a vaccination in cutting down COVID-19 cases. But for various reasons, many having to do with restrictions on invading one’s personal space, governments can’t force people to be vaccinated, especially those that live in other places. In my view, the low vaccination rate here has more to do with a higher tolerance for personal risk than it does with anything political. For what it’s worth, Republican voters, who pollsters say are far less likely to get the shots, have become a distinct minority around Las Vegas. Also, sheer stupidity cannot be ruled out.
Masks are another matter. They are not nearly as intrusive as vaccinations. And it’s an easy mandate to enforce. No mask, no entering an indoor space with other people. And masks help, a lot. To me, still New To Las Vegas, this is a no-brainer.
But here’s the local rub. The Las Vegas economy remains utterly dependent on pleasing out-of-towners, who is most cases don’t have to come here. Local lawmakers are clearly worried visitors won’t be pleased by being told they have to wear a mask, even if they have been vaccinated. The pooh-bahs fret that the visitors will stay away if they are hassled.
But they definitely will stay away once the word really gets out there that Vegas has a terrible problem. As I see it, from a publicity standpoint the Las Vegas area got a free ride over the July 4 weekend, when something like 300,000 visitors came here to party. The fact that local COVID-19 numbers were taking off–by one measure the worst in the country–got almost no national press other than a single story by Bloomberg News. Despite the huge downsizing of the news media, Vegas may not get that lucky again. Already, health authorities in Los Angeles and Chicago are warning abut travel to Sin City.
Meanwhile, the area outrageously continues to market itself to the world as a safe tourist destination. “Las Vegas is open and ready to welcome you,” leads the “COVID-19 updates page” right now on the website of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. This is the local scandal-plagued, taxpayer-funded tourism agency that just signed a $500 million contract with the outfit that developed the wildly successful “What happens here, stays here” pitch to flog the town for another six years. A lot of that money, it seems, will go toward a publicity cover-up.
When it comes to COVID-19, “What happens here, stays here” isn’t such a good thing.