Despite the city’s best efforts in requiring casinos to submit detailed reopening plans and to enforce strict social distancing measures, the reopening of the Las Vegas gaming industry has led to a surge in Nevada coronavirus cases since early June. In fact, cases in July alone nearly tripled, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
By July 6, only 123 visitors had tested positive for the coronavirus, compared to at least 347 visitors as of July 25. Positive cases included visitors visiting from 32 states—more than 150 from California, 89 from Arizona, and 20 from Texas—as well as some cases from Mexico and Brazil.
By mid-August, that number doubled to 697 new COVID-19 cases in Nevada. Of those cases, 628 cases (90%) were reported in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located.
The majority of the positive cases were tested while visitors were still in Nevada, with only a handful of positive cases identified shortly after visitors returned home. Given the incubation period (the time between exposure and the development of symptoms) can range from two to 14 days, it would suggest that many of these visitors might have brought the virus to Nevada with them.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority recently revealed that more than 1 million people visited the tourist destination in June. Numbers for the month of July have not yet been released as of this writing so it remains to be seen whether that data will corroborate with the spike in July infections.
With Nevada coronavirus cases rising, the state might add liability protection
Further complicating matters are certain factions that are seeking liability protection from COVID-related lawsuits state-by-state, so businesses and corporations can’t be held accountable for exposing employees or consumers to the coronavirus. It’s already extremely difficult to successfully sue over negligent COVID-19 exposure—which is why very few lawsuits have already been filed.
But if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has his way, it’s about to get even harder.
McConnell has stated repeatedly that Senate Republicans will refuse to vote on any coronavirus relief bills that don’t include a clause to shield businesses from liability. A group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has similar ambitions, and it’s already succeeded in getting 11 states to pass COVID-19 immunity laws, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
Nevada could soon be added to that list, as ALEC succeeded in quickly pushing a liability shield through the state legislature and to the desk of Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), as noted by the Popular Info newsletter. The proposed bill is seeking liability protections “for personal injury or death resulting from exposure to COVID-19” to corporate and government entities, as long as they are “in substantial compliance with controlling health standards.”
The problem is that the bill has a fairly broad definition of “controlling health standards,” and the National Employment Law Project (NELP) believes this leaves a door open for businesses to set their own standards as to what amounts to “compliance.” Because the Trump administration has made even its own federal standards from organizations such as the CDC and OSHA voluntary, this leaves the door open for businesses to “comply” by doing nothing at all.
Coupled with the already-skyrocketing case numbers, it’s not hard to see how this could be harmful to people in Nevada.
Even though it’s already difficult to sue an entity over COVID-19 exposure, Georgetown University law professor David Vladeck recently explained in Congressional testimony why these liability shields set a dangerous precedent.
“With liability rules in place, employers and businesses have real-world incentives to take the precautions reasonably necessary to protect workers and consumers from infection—the risk that failure to do so may lead to lawsuits, regulatory enforcement, or both,” Vladeck said. “Keeping liability rules in force is essential to build the confidence that workers and consumers need to go back to work and to reopen our economy.”
In other words, even a vague, potential threat of litigation can play an important role in keeping people safe, and dismantling those protections would be a huge step backward. Meanwhile, despite the surging coronavirus stats, the Nevada casinos remain open for business, and people continue to gamble.