- Associated Press - Monday, March 22, 2021

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Crowds during the weekend in Las Vegas stirred talk Monday about a coronavirus pandemic recovery arriving along with the college basketball fans, spring breakers and pool partiers who found increased capacity limits at casinos, restaurants and businesses.

“Clearly, there is untapped demand for Las Vegas from consumers across the country,” said Alan Feldman, a fellow at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “We need to be certain that the infections and infection rates don’t spike in the community so that we can continue to expand occupancy limits.”

Scenes of people packing the resort-lined Las Vegas Strip, the downtown Fremont Street casino pedestrian mall and McCarran International Airport provided stark contrast from places deserted during COVID-19 shutdowns a year ago.

“I’ve been at home with my kids for a year, homeschooling them,” Los Angeles-area resident Ernie Moreno told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a Sunday report. “I just wanted a break, and wanted to watch games.”

Moreno referred to the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, which drew thousands Friday, Saturday and Sunday to sports betting books and to a downtown casino rooftop with multiple heated swimming pools arranged around a huge screen showing every game.



State health officials and Dr. Mark Pandori, head of the state Public Health Laboratory, said Monday they were optimistic that, amid increased numbers of vaccinations, Nevada would not see another surge of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

But, “it’s hard to use the word ‘confidence’ when there are variants circulating,” Pandori said.

More than 301,000 cases of the virus have been reported in Nevada since the pandemic began, and 5,174 deaths.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, last week announced that vaccine eligibility will be widened April 5 to everyone ages 16 and older. Those with underlying health conditions became eligible at state-partner pharmacies on Monday.

Caleb Cage, head of Nevada’s coronavirus response effort, noted the state’s 14-day test positivity rate dropped Saturday below the World Health Organization target of 5% for the first time since June. The figure - 4.8% on Monday - peaked at more than 21% in Nevada in January. It measures the percentage of people tested for COVID-19 who are found to be infected.

On the streets and in the casinos, where Sisolak raised occupancy last week to 50%, some people wore masks and some did not.

Las Vegas police reported no disorder of the kind that prompted Miami city officials to impose a curfew and curtail spring break traffic in that city’s South Beach area.

“Las Vegas, like other places in the country, is hoping for recovery,” Officer Larry Hadfield, a Las Vegas police spokesman, said Monday.

“It seems like everybody’s elated to be back,” Westgate sports book vice president Jay Kornegay told the Review-Journal. “They’re energized and they’re very thankful to be back here after skipping last year.”

Reporters and photographers from the newspaper fanned out to document what Amanda Belarmino, an assistant hospitality professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said she thought was “the beginning of a long-term recovery.”

Clyde Barrow, a gambling industry expert and professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, observed that “as more and more people are vaccinated, more and more people are going to feel comfortable traveling and … in crowds.”

Raissa Angelica, a Seattle resident who turned 31 on Sunday, watched the Bellagio fountains water show and told the Review-Journal she was surprised to see how busy the Strip was.

By Sunday afternoon, clogged vehicle traffic backed up for 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) on Interstate 15, the return driving route to Southern California.

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