Masks will no longer need to be worn in Mississippi casinos by staff and patrons starting this Friday at 5pm. [Image: Shutterstock.com]
MGC removes mask mandate
Almost one year after Mississippi casinos reopened following a two-month shutdown because of the pandemic, the mask mandate is finally over. Yesterday, the Mississippi Gaming Commission (MGC) announced that starting Friday 5pm, it will no longer require casino customers and staff to wear masks.
casinos will be “free to set their own COVID-19 safety guidelines”
In a news release, the MGC also said that casinos will be “free to set their own COVID-19 safety guidelines.” The commission added that all licensed operators “must continue to abide by any state and local rules or ordinances pertaining to COVID-19.”
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeve issued an executive order on March 16, 2020 requiring casinos in the Magnolia State to close following the first outbreak of COVID-19. The MGC then instructed state casinos to start reopening on May 21.
Since Mississippi’s 26 state-regulated casinos resumed business in May last year, it has been an MGC requirement that people wear masks inside the gambling properties unless they are eating or drinking. The state’s loosening of restrictions reflects the reduction and containment of coronavirus cases, with 161 infections and two deaths reported Thursday by the Mississippi State Department of Health.
Sanitization protocols likely to stay
According to the Associated Press, it was expected that casino employees would encourage social distancing, while post-COVID-19 signage at entrances would advise sick people to refrain from entering. Despite it not being a state mandate anymore, some casinos could still adhere to regular cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces once every two hours.
In response, the general manager of Golden Nugget Casino Biloxi, Chett Harrison, told the Sun Herald: “We do that anyway, even before COVID. We want it to look crisp and clean every day.”
In August 2020, the state’s casinos were the focus of employees’ ire over alleged poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Casino workers voiced their concerns to the MGC, with the UNITE HERE Local 23 union presenting a report to highlight the issues staff were having. Some of the problems listed included staff possibly exposed to the virus being told to still report for work, inconsistent masks rules, and substandard sanitization practices.
Mississippi “did it right” by taking “a period to pull back and see what this (the coronavirus) was.”
Mississippi, after its neighbor Louisiana, was the second-fastest major commercial state to reopen its casinos in the wake of the US-wide pandemic shutdown. Harrison believes Mississippi “did it right” by taking “a period to pull back and see what this (the coronavirus) was.”
Good news spreading across the US
The announcement that Mississippi is nixing masks in casinos follows general good news that the US is winning the battle against COVID-19. In Nevada, Las Vegas casinos will open at 80% capacity starting May 1 under new regulatory guidelines issued by the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB). While the NGCB is reeling back social distancing from six feet to three, wearing masks remains a requirement.
Business is good and will continue to be for this summer. We just need employees.”
A good problem that the casino industry in Nevada and Mississippi is facing now is the struggle to find staff. Golden Nugget Biloxi’s Harrison has observed: “Business is good and will continue to be for this summer. We just need employees.”