Nevada officials telling visitors to come, but wear masks

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada is open for visitors with precautions in place, tourism and coronavirus response leaders declared Monday, despite a weekend where the state passed the 200,000 mark in known COVID-19 infections and tallied 73 new deaths.

In Las Vegas, where New Year’s fireworks that typically draw 300,000 people to the resort-lined Strip have been canceled, casinos are “open within the limits of the capacity determined by the governor,” Nevada tourism promotions chief Brenda Scolari said in a media call with state COVID-19 response leaders.

Gov. Steve Sisolak in November tightened occupancy limits for restaurants, bars, casino floors and gyms, and set capacity at 25% for many businesses in a bid to stop a surge of coronavirus cases that are driving up hospitalizations.

“We are very much promoting that properties in Las Vegas are acting with safety of visitors in mind and have every measure in place that’s necessary to make New Year’s Eve safe and memorable,” Scolari said.

But a handful of Las Vegas Strip resorts have announced midweek closures because of a lack of demand. The Mirage said that starting in January, it will only be open from noon on Thursdays through noon on Mondays. While some casino-resorts have only announced weekday closures for hotel reservations, the Mirage plans weekday closures of all of its operations, including its casino floor, restaurants and volcano show out front that erupts four times a night.

Meanwhile, Scolari said the state distributed nearly $1.7 million in grants to rural organizations and groups under a “Discover Your Nevada” campaign “to promote that they are open for visitors and ... have safety practices in place to help keep visitors and residents safe.”

Nevada welcoming visitors contrasts with neighboring California, where hospitals are scrambling to find beds and officials are drawing up plans for possibly limiting hospital admissions. In Arizona, officials say only 8% of hospital beds and intensive-care beds are available and not in use.

Nevada’s governor took to Twitter on Monday to share photos of the state’s first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine as it arrived in Carson City.

“While we wait for a widespread vaccine distribution, please continue to wear your mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing & stay home when you can,” Sisolak tweeted.

Julia Peek, deputy state health administrator, said the arrival of 8,000 doses of vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health followed 10,000 doses of Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech vaccine received last week for front-line health care workers and nursing home residents.

The state Department of Health and Human Services on Monday reported 2,049 new cases of the coronavirus in Nevada and six more fatalities, raising Nevada’s totals to 205,884 known cases and 2,787 deaths since March.

Authorities think the number of overall infections may be higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

Sixteen of Nevada’s 17 counties are flagged for what state COVID-19 response chief Caleb Cage called “elevated disease transmission.” Only Storey County isn’t on that list.

Nevada’s two-week rate of positive tests fell below 20% over the weekend after peaking at 21.8% on Dec. 8, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The figure was at 19.7% on Monday — still nearly four times above the 5% that the World Health Organization advises states to reach before parts of the economy should reopen.

“Unfortunately, the modest reduction we are seeing now is not expected to continue,” Cage told reporters, “as Christmas, New Years and other holidays ... may lead to expected surges.”