Opening Again

May 11, 2020 1:45 PM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports
May 11, 2020 1:45 PM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports

It seemed like a wonderful achievement when several distilleries around the country switched recently from making booze to making hand sanitizers. Sadly, they strongly cautioned that drinking the hand sanitizer would stop your heart, not COVID-19. And by now, you’ve also heard that injecting disinfectants is also a no-no.

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The proposed solutions for re-opening our casinos are not nearly as harmful as those ideas, but on the other hand, no one can yet say if they will be effective. There are two issues with any fix: will it work, and, perhaps more importantly, will it convince our guests that it’s safe to return?

With those caveats considered, some of the ideas seem promising.

As you may have read earlier on CDC Gaming Reports, Wynn Resorts installed thermal imaging systems at all entrances to identify guests with fevers. Unfortunately, they launched that system at about the same time Nevada shut down all its casinos. Upon re-opening, this type of camera system should be helpful in limiting social contact with guests suffering from severe colds and the flu. Unfortunately, the news that COVID-19 infected patients can be symptom-free and not have a fever shows the answer will not be this simple. Still, thermal scanning cameras, thermal scanning kiosks with facial recognition or other methods of taking the temperature of arriving guests would not hurt, and could bolster, perceptions of safety.

Generating guidelines for social distancing, like hardware stores and grocers have done, could be more difficult. Standard slot machine widths are 28” and skipping every other machine only provides 56” if no one sways. Skipping two games would provide a safe 84” of isolation. However, from a floor layout perspective that is impractical. Providing a Plexiglas divider on an every-other slot machine arrangement would be cumbersome but may work best.

How would we clean the buttons, screens and the Plexiglas after a guest leaves the machine? Several manufacturers are working tirelessly on possible fixes. IGT, among others, is modifying their player tracking system to alert attendants in specific zones when and where a guest leaves a machine, providing the staff with a list of which machines to clean. Acres 4.0 has that feature and adds another that shuts down adjacent machines once one is occupied. These are excellent and thoughtful upgrades. They, and other technical solutions, are emerging daily that have promise.

Various vendors are also experimenting with UV light treatments and other cleaning options for both machines and dividers, but it is too early yet to declare that these methods are effective. If they prove to be, it could be a strong step forward.

Table games are a more difficult problem. Social interaction, not distancing, has always been their appeal. Some speculate that this could be the tipping point for ETGs which may be easier to operate during pandemic rebound. At this point, some operators have proposed an every-other table option, along with supervision to prevent groups from congregating. With that, we might be able to achieve six feet distancing of players; but between dealer and player we’d be hard pressed to make more than three feet. Another alternative offered by some vendors are Plexiglas dividers between each player and the dealer with a three or four-inch opening at the bottom of the panel facing the dealer to handle the cards. It will probably be effective, but whether or not players will enjoy being caged on three sides is yet to be seen. There’s also the issue of sanitizing the cards and chips which are constantly changing hands, not to mention cash handling throughout the casino.

There are some excellent cashless table game applications currently approved and in operation. They eliminate the handling of currency, which has always been a potential source of contagion. But these innovative PIN-debit solutions still don’t solve the problem of chips, dice or card exchanges.

Cashier Cages seem an easy to fix by adding Plexiglas shields. That prevents cashier-to-customer transmission. However, just like the table games, the Cage faces one of the highest volumes of currency, checks and chips (all difficult to sanitize).

Depending on the jurisdiction, some regulators may require an approved “plan” for re-opening.  One of the first (and best) set of general guidelines was issued recently by Wynn CEO Matt Maddox. It is an excellent roundup of practical solutions once Las Vegas (or any community) achieves an acceptable level of COVID transmission declines. Here are just four of their dozens of policy recommendations:

Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer dispensers, touchless whenever possible, will be placed at key guest and employee entrances and contact areas such as driveways, reception areas, hotel lobbies, the casino floor, restaurant entrances, meeting and convention spaces, elevator landings, pools, salons and exercise areas. Hand lotion will be provided in guest rooms and throughout the back of house (in touchless dispensers) for employees.

Guest Sanitation Amenities

  1. a) Each guest will receive an amenity bag during check-in containing masks, hand sanitizer and a COVID-19 awareness card.
  2. b) A spray bottle of sanitizer or wipes will be provided in each room for guest use (subject to availability and stored out of reach of small children).

Queuing. Any area where guests or employees queue will be clearly marked for appropriate physical distancing. This includes check-in, check-out, elevator lobbies, coffee shops and casual dining and taxi lines.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

 Appropriate PPE will be worn by all employees based on their role and responsibilities and in adherence to state or local regulations and guidance. Training on how to properly use and dispose of all PPE will be mandatory. Every employee entering the resort will be provided a mask and required to wear that mask while on property. Gloves will be provided to employees whose responsibilities require them as determined by medical experts including housekeeping and public area attendants and security officers in direct contact with guests.

Virtually every plan is sure to carry a provision about masks and how to use them. But even this common-sense approach is not easy. Touching your face with or without a mask is a no-no. But has there ever been an itch as great as the one you’re not allowed to scratch.  And do masks really work?

The graphic above went viral on the internet and is very encouraging. Unfortunately, it’s not accurate. Both Snopes (who added the “mostly false” watermark) and the CDC say there’s no valid research behind this chart.

Here are some good and bad realities about mask usage cited by NPR:

Good: “The primary benefit of covering your nose and mouth is that you protect others. While there is still much to be learned about the novel coronavirus, it appears that many people who are infected are shedding the virus – through coughs, sneezes and other respiratory droplets – for 48 hours before they start feeling sick. And others who have the virus – up to 25%, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield — ‘may never feel symptoms but may still play a role in transmitting it.’ That’s why wearing a mask even if you don’t feel sick can be a good idea. If you cough or sneeze, the mask can catch those respiratory droplets, so they don’t land on other people or surfaces. ‘So it’s not going to protect you, but it is going to protect your neighbor,’ says Dr. Daniel Griffin at Columbia University, an expert on infectious diseases. ‘If your neighbor is wearing a mask and the same thing happens, they’re going to protect you. So, masks worn properly have the potential to benefit people.’”

Not So Good – Again from NPR, “It’s something that once you put on, is potentially either touching your coughs, sneezes or the spray of your speech, or protecting you from the coughs, spray, speech of other people. And now it’s dirty. It needs to basically be either discarded or washed. So, if you’re wearing a cloth mask, put it into the laundry basket immediately. If it’s disposable, throw it away. It’s a big no-no to pull the mask down to eat a snack (or smoke), then pull it back up: You’ve just gotten whatever dirty stuff is on the mask on your hands and into your mouth.

And, depressingly, even the best masks have shortcomings. The ‘N95’ designation (of the superior masks that are ‘out-of-stock’ everywhere) means that when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron) test particles. If properly fitted, the filtration capabilities of N95 respirators exceed those of face masks. However, even a properly fitted N95 respirator does not eliminate the risk of illness or death.

Below is another internet graphic that is both easy to understand and pretty accurate:

The bottom line is that there are many practical solutions we can implement to reduce, but not eliminate, risk. Providing an environment that is perceived to be safe yet is reasonably practical; must be our highest priority. Once that is achieved, they will come again.

Until that time, perhaps the best single thing we can do to restore confidence is to prevent Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman from giving any future interviews.