New Year’s Eve revelers who were at crowded places Thursday night should assume they were exposed to the coronavirus, a Nevada health official said. These places include the Las Vegas Strip.
Caleb Cage, the state COVID-19 response director, told KTNV-TV that revelers who were exposed could be spreading it to others without knowing it. Those who are infected but don’t show symptoms are said to be asymptomatic. They still can spread the virus, health experts said.
Nevada officials had previously expressed concern that New Year’s Eve gatherings could endanger large numbers of people. Health experts urged those who might have been exposed to be tested.
It was a risk to go out on New Year’s Eve,” Cage said. “The governor made it clear.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) and Cage have been infected with the virus. Both have recovered.
Gatherings in Nevada are limited to no more than 50 people under state restrictions. However, media reports on New Year’s Eve showed large numbers of revelers, some without masks, packed tightly together at public sites in the Las Vegas Valley. These sites included the Fountains of Bellagio.
The Bellagio Hotel and Casino is on the west side of the Las Vegas Strip where the Dunes resort once stood. The fountains are easily visible from the sidewalk and street.
‘Just Plain Irresponsible’
The annual New Year’s Eve fireworks show on the Strip was canceled this year out of precaution. It was conducted virtually instead. However, people still visited the Strip on New Year’s Eve in large numbers. The Strip is south of downtown Las Vegas.
In the downtown area, the Fremont Street Experience entertainment district had planned to charge a $25 security fee to allow people age 21 and older onto the pedestrian mall. This plan would have attracted an estimated 14,000 people to Fremont Street. The street is lined on both sides with casinos.
Leading up to New Year’s Eve, Sisolak was among those who criticized proposals that would draw large crowds.
“To organize or promote gatherings with the tickets or fee as if it’s business as usual, that’s just plain irresponsible,” Sisolak said. “The science prevails, and the science says the more people in a gathering, it is guaranteed that a portion are going to have COVID, either symptomatic or asymptomatic.”
The Fremont Street Experience proposal also received criticism from the public.
In a letter to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a person identified as Rick Van Diepen wrote, “This event has every possibility of becoming a superspreader event, because there was no way for Metro officers to enforce mask-wearing and strict social distancing with that many people, most of whom will likely be intoxicated.”
The Fremont Street Experience later announced that only hotel guests with wristbands would be allowed onto the pedestrian mall on New Year’s Eve.
In Nevada, more than 3,210 people have died of complications from COVID-19, according to figures on the Review-Journal website. Statewide, 233,335 have been infected.
Clark County, with two-thirds of the state’s population, has 2,424 deaths related to COVID-19. Las Vegas and Henderson are the largest cities in Clark County.
Brian Labus, an epidemiologist at UNLV, told the newspaper that the balance between tourism and public health in Las Vegas is “always a big challenge.”
“We, on the public health side of things, would obviously prefer not to see people gathering. But there’s not much more anyone could have done, other than close down Las Vegas completely, and that’s just not realistic,” he said.
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