Sisolak raises COVID-19 attendance cap on public gatherings

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Steve Marcus

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak speaks during a news conference at the Grant Sawyer State Building in Las Vegas Sept. 29, 2020. The governor provided updates on Nevadas COVID-19 response efforts and adjustments to current capacity limits on gatherings. The face mask is themed after the Vegas Golden Knights’ mascot Chance the Golden Gila Monster.

Published Tue, Sep 29, 2020 (12:25 p.m.)

Updated Tue, Sep 29, 2020 (6:55 p.m.)

Gov. Steve Sisolak today raised the attendance cap for most public gatherings to 250 people, with bigger crowds allowed if spread out at large venues like stadiums or convention centers.

Such gatherings, including church services, were previously capped at 50 people to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Sisolak said the move was an “important first step to revitalizing our hospitality industry,” calling the Las Vegas Strip “the fuel that keeps the engine to this state going.”

Large venues, such as T-Mobile Arena, which seats 17,500, and Allegiant Stadium, which has a normal capacity of 65,000, can apply for seating of up to 10% of their capacity.

Attendees, however, must be separated into groups of no more that 250 people. The same goes for conventions, which will be capped at 1,000 people.

Venues with a capacity of at least 2,500 can apply for the 10% cap. They must submit a safety plan for approval by the state and local health authorities.

Sisolak, who spoke at a news conference in Las Vegas, paused to speak directly to groups deciding whether to move their conventions or gatherings to states with fewer restrictions.

“Before you decide, know this: Not only is Nevada open for your business, we plan to be open for the long term,” Sisolak said. “We are focusing on your safety.”

Other gatherings would be limited to 250 people or 50% of normal capacity, whichever is less. That includes religious gatherings.

“We hope everybody enjoys being able to get back to religious worship,” Sisolak said.

Shortly after the address, reaction started to trickle in from the Las Vegas tourism and hospitality community.

“Today’s news is a great first step for our local meeting and convention industries,” said Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “We encourage everyone who visits, works or lives in Las Vegas to continue taking all the necessary safety and health precautions to allow us to quickly and fully reopen the destination.”

In a tweet that posted early Tuesday evening, MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle said the move “is a meaningful step toward safely welcoming back our valued meeting and convention guests.”

Michael Massari, chief sales officer for Caesars Entertainment, said the company was thankful for Sisolak’s decision.

“We applaud him being so transparent with conference organizers that this is just the first step as we simultaneously allow for larger meetings and assure that Las Vegas is not only the best city to gather in, but also the safest,” Massari said.

Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association, said the change is an “important” first step toward “getting people back to work and pushing Nevada’s economic recovery forward.”

Sisolak’s announcement also drew reaction from UNLV officials, who said they intended to petition Southern Nevada Health District and state’s Department of Business & Industry to have 10% capacity for home football games at Allegiant Stadium. The season begins Oct. 24.

“As Gov. Sisolak shared, let’s all continue to promote personal responsibility and follow the important safety protocols, including wearing our masks, so that we can remain healthy, safe and continue the positive trajectory,” UNLV Director of Athletics Desiree Reed-Francois said in the statement.

The Las Vegas Lights soccer franchise plays its final home game Saturday. It posted on Twitter that it is investigating having fans — it’s unknown how long the approval process is. The Golden Knights likely won’t open the 2020-21 season until January, when restrictions could potentially be more loose.

The announcement came as Nevada has seen a coronavirus test positivity rate drop from 15.7% on July 9 to 7.8% today. Sisolak said the decline is the product of hard work, not “chance or good luck.”

The changes announced today mark some of the most significant loosening of coronavirus restrictions since Sisolak ordered the closure of all nonessential businesses on March 17. Some businesses were allowed to start reopening in late May, with casinos permitted to resume operations starting June 4.

The limit on public gatherings has crimped operations of businesses such as nightclubs and Strip production shows, as well as conventions. It has also drawn the ire of some in the religious community, as churches seek to resume full services.

Earlier this month, Sisolak said he was considering easing restrictions on religious gatherings as a Nevada church fought in court to have the 50-person cap struck down as unconstitutional.

Lawyers for Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley filed briefs with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Sept. 2 after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly refused its bid in July for an emergency order suspending the cap.

So far, Nevada has reported 79,595 coronavirus cases and 1,593 related deaths.

Today's news conference was Sisolak’s first in a series announcing updates to statewide coronavirus mitigation standards, his office said.

The governor said he would soon make an announcement on restrictions regarding youth and recreational sports and would have guidance on Halloween activities in the coming weeks.

Sisolak said the state wants to take safe steps in reopening to avoid a “roller coaster of up-and-down cases."

“I look forward to when we can celebrate a full reopening of our critical, world-class tourism and hospitality industries,” he said. “We will only do so under the safest conditions possible, but we can continue to move in that direction in a gradual way that ensures we are the safest destination.”

Sisolak said he was confident the state has passed through any Labor Day surge in cases. But he said he was still concerned about the consequences of some events, including an indoor rally President Donald Trump held Sept. 13 in Henderson that drew thousands of people.

Las Vegas Sun reporter John Sadler and Managing Editor Ray Brewer contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed.

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