LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas will fully reopen to vaccinated diners, dancers, business owners and bodybuilders beginning June 1, after county lawmakers on Tuesday followed new federal guidelines and dropped plans to tie business occupancy limits to public vaccination rates.
“Clark County will delete its plan in entirety,” Marilyn Kirkpatrick, chairwoman of the commission with jurisdiction over the Las Vegas Strip, said ahead of a vote to lift local mask mandates and personal distancing restrictions — and in her words, “send everybody back to pre-pandemic guidelines.”
The unanimous vote came after public speakers expressed anger and frustration with pandemic restrictions — especially the effects on children.
Commissioner Jim Gibson observed that county rules became meaningless after Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, on Friday aligned state requirements with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations issued a day earlier.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to impose something that we really can’t enforce,” Gibson said.
The County Commission previously tied a goal of fully opening businesses without social distancing rules to 60% of the eligible population receiving at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. The number on Tuesday was 45%, after the eligible population grew to include children ages 12 and older.
Pressure grew to drop rules after the CDC said Thursday that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can stop person-to-person distancing and mask-wearing outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.
Unvaccinated people should still wear masks, according to the guidelines, and the CDC said everyone — fully vaccinated or not — should still use masks in crowded indoor locations such as airplanes, buses, hospitals and prisons.
Most resorts in Las Vegas have already returned to 100% casino occupancy, with approval from regulators at the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
The county move Tuesday affects non-gambling businesses from swimming pools to wedding chapels to nightclubs. Businesses still can set their own rules.
Kirkpatrick said fully vaccinated people won’t have to wear masks or separate themselves from others “except where ... federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws and regulations say otherwise.”
“People are allowed to be more strict than CDC guidelines,” the commission chairwoman added. “But that is a personal choice.”
Many other states lifted mask requirements last week, following the new CDC guidelines, although Nevada’s largest neighbor state did not do so.
California's chief health officer said Monday that people there should keep wearing masks and distancing indoors until June 15, to allow time to adjust rules and vaccinate more people.
In Las Vegas, the region’s top health officer, Dr. Fermin Leguen, said test positivity, a measure of the number of people who take coronavirus tests that come back positive, was 4.8%. The World Health Organization goal is 5% or below to relax restrictions.
State health officials on Tuesday reported 287 new cases of COVID-19 and seven more deaths. The Department of Health and Human Services has reported more than 321,000 cases since the pandemic began and 5,540 deaths.
The Las Vegas area, with 2.3 million of Nevada’s 3.1 million residents, has tallied more than 249,000 of those COVID-19 cases and 4,366 deaths — almost 79% of the statewide total.
Leguen, head of the Southern Nevada Health District, characterized hospitalization rates, which peaked at near-capacity in January because of spikes in COVID-19 cases, as “back to pre-pandemic levels of admissions and demand for resources.”
Although Kirkpatrick told the commission audience the county lawmakers had no jurisdiction over mask mandates for schoolchildren, almost a dozen speakers implored them to signal to the Clark County School District that facial coverings could be removed.
Bonnie Taylor, a self-described mental health professional, characterized children as “pawns” in “political theater” and said they were harmed physically and emotionally by being told they posed a threat to themselves and others.
Jodi Harris of Sight & Sound Events in Las Vegas said coronavirus restrictions have devastated her business.
She said meeting and wedding attendees should be able to dance at events, and she cast mask-wearing customers as confused to leave casino banquet halls only to enter “a free for all, a party” in casinos with no mask or personal distance requirements.
“We are the wedding capital of the world, the event capital of the world," Harris said. “We just want to get back to normal.”