LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada reported its first death from the new coronavirus Monday as businesses and schools shut down around the state, including many of the Las Vegas Strip casinos that power the local economy, and the NFL canceled public events that had been scheduled with its player draft next month in Las Vegas.
Health officials in the Las Vegas area said the man who died was in his 60s, had underlying health conditions and had been hospitalized with COVID-19.
Gov. Steve Sisolak said officials expected deaths to occur, “but it doesn’t make that reality any less painful or difficult.”
Local officials are asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency for more test kits and for staff to help with drive-thru virus testing in the Las Vegas area, said Michael Johnson, community health chief at the Southern Nevada Health District. He said testing could ramp up from fewer than 1,000 samples so far, or about 60 per day, to as many as 4,000 per week.
“The more testing we do, the more cases likely will be reported to the health district,” Johnson said.
Nevada has reported at least 45 cases of the virus so far. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness including pneumonia.
The intentional casino closures appear to be the first in nearly 60 years and may be only the fourth since gambling was legalized in Las Vegas in 1931, said Michael Green, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas history professor. He attributed it to “Nevada and the resort companies realizing that they have to take action.”
“How does it look if you stay open and it makes matters worse?” Green asked.
Two major casino operators announced shutdowns. Wynn Resorts said in a statement that a two-week closure of the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore would start at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The company said it will keep paying all full-time workers.
MGM Resorts International said its 13 Las Vegas resorts, including the Mirage and Bellagio, planned to close starting Monday. MGM said any laid-off full-time employees would be given two weeks of their normal pay and those with health insurance would keep their coverage through June. The company didn’t have a number of the employees who would be laid off or furloughed.
Nevada’s governor said properties can decide whether to close. But those that remain open must comply with rules like having no more than three chairs at table games and cleaning and sanitizing all gambling machines at least every two hours.
Caesars Entertainment, with 10 Las Vegas properties, said casino gambling, bars, pools and shopping remain open but performances at its venues were indefinitely suspended beginning Monday. The company closed buffets at least through April 9, and some restaurants.
The downtown open-air Fremont Street Experience casino pedestrian mall ended entertainment at its outdoor stages.
Green, the history professor, said it appears the last time casino business stopped was for President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963. Casinos stayed open after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
The closures are expected to hurt tax revenue in Nevada, where gambling taxes are second only to sales taxes as a percentage of the state’s annual budget. Nevada has no personal income tax.
Nevada casinos in January topped the $1 billion mark in house winnings for the eighth time in the last year. Las Vegas-area casinos generated almost $602 million of the statewide total of $708.4 million in gambling taxes in fiscal 2019, or 85%, said Michael Lawton, analyst for the state Gaming Control Board.
The governor ordered all public, private and charter K-12 schools to close until at least April 6. School employees will still be paid. State officials say they’re setting up sites at schools where low-income families who rely on free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch programs could pick up food.
Sisolak said he’s directing officials to close state offices to the public and telling leadership for essential services such as Medicaid to wipe down in-person public surfaces and transition them online as much as possible. He also said the state is initiating a hiring freeze, encouraging state agencies to limit spending to essential emergency purchases and asking cities to enforce 50% or less capacity at public gathering spaces.
Sisolak also said over the weekend that he and the congressional delegation are asking the U.S. government for more test kits because the state does not have enough.