Las Vegas workers are being ordered to mask up as coronavirus cases once again rise across the region largely due to the more contagious delta variant, while tourists and other members of the public are controversially omitted from the requirement.
The Clark County Commission voted on Tuesday to require masks for all employees who work in indoor public places, regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated. Commissioners reached the decision after they considered the virus’s potential effects on local business and hospitals if cases were to rise.
“You don’t just let the crisis just linger for a while until you come up with the perfect solution,” Commissioner Jim Gibson said during the emergency meeting that featured heated comments from pro- and anti-mask community members. “We’ve got to do something.”
As cases again rise throughout the country, the White House recently identified the Las Vegas metro area as the fourth worst in the nation for coronavirus transmission among metro areas containing more than 1 million people. There, 16% of lab tests from July 10-16 were positive for the virus, according to the White House COVID-19 team’s latest community profile report. The top three metro areas were all in Florida: Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami.
The delta variant currently makes up the majority of southern Nevada’s new COVID-19 cases, and vaccination rates are plateauing, “which is driving the increase in cases here,” Dr. Cort Lohff, chief medical officer at the Southern Nevada Health District, told commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting.
Lohff said requiring everyone to wear a mask “might obviously be more effective” than only requiring indoor workers to, but that “either way, either one of those two measures, I think, will be effective in terms of being able to mitigate the transmission of this virus.”
The state’s largest workers union was not entirely happy with the new rule, however, telling HuffPost it doesn’t go far enough.
“The protection has to be for all, not one side,” Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the local Culinary Union, said in a phone interview Thursday. “The members feel like, OK, they wear their masks but what about everyone else? I think the right thing to do is to be fair with everyone. Employees wear their masks but everyone else too, who are inside.”
Since March of last year, 140 members or family members of the Culinary and Bartenders Union, which represents 60,000 workers in Las Vegas and Reno, have died from the virus and 1,392 have been hospitalized. The Culinary members work as guest room attendants, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks, bartenders, and laundry and kitchen workers. They’re just as concerned about the virus as everyone else is, said Argüello-Kline.
Under the county’s order, county workers will not have to wear a mask while in a private office or cubicle but will have to put one on when they come out and remain indoors. This new mask rule will remain in place until Aug. 17, which is when the board of commissioners plans to revisit these requirements.