Conventions can go maskless if vaccination required

CARSON CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday added large conventions to the list of permitted indoor gatherings that can go maskless if sponsors require all attendees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The expanded exception, effective in counties with elevated risk of disease spread, “gives an option for convention organizers to choose between requiring masks indoors for all attendees, regardless of vaccination status, or ensuring that all attendees are vaccinated, in which case fully vaccinated attendees can remove their masks,” said a statement from the governor’s office.

An exception for large venues, such a stadiums and concert halls, was initially granted last month. As with the earlier measure, the latest edict is not a requirement to show proof of vaccination but instead an option for convention sponsors.

Masks will not be required for those fully vaccinated if the convention will host 4,000 or more attendees, requires pre-registration, and lasts for a set period. Such events will be open only to those who register in advance.

Per the directive, the convention sponsor must maintain access control to prevent unregistered or unauthorized persons from entering or attending the convention and require proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for every attendee. Those failing to provide proof must be turned away.

No religious or medical exemptions

Convention sponsors also must be able to verify vaccination status and hire enough staff to handle the verification process. They may admit partially vaccinated attendees but they must remain masked, and they must implement a system to distinguish between fully and partially vaccinated attendees and those who, due to age, are not eligible to be vaccinated. Religious and medical exemptions, however, “cannot be accommodated,” per the detailed guidance on the directive.

Finally, they must submit an exception certification from the state Department of Business and Industry and applicable local health authority.

Convention interests on Thursday welcomed the state’s revised guidance.

“Large gatherings, whether they be tradeshows and conventions or special events, are critical to Southern Nevada’s economy and the tens of thousands of jobs that depend on this business,” said Virginia Valentine, president and CEO of the Nevada Resort Association. “We appreciate the additional option and flexibility Gov. Sisolak is providing to trade show and convention organizers.”

She added that the resort industry “has been tireless in its efforts to vaccinate employees, their families and the public, and we will continue to do our part to increase the vaccination rate.”

Lori Nelson-Kraft, a spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the updated directive “is a great option for our trade show producers, their exhibitors and attendees.”

Three trade shows with upcoming events at the Las Vegas Convention Center already have indicated they will require registered attendees to have initiated the vaccination process. They are the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Business Aviation Association in October, and CES in January. The Global Gaming Expo, meeting in October at The Venetian Expo, also will require participants to be vaccinated.

The new normal?

Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor at the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at UNLV, said Thursday that the governor’s directive might signal the return of normalized operations in the industry.

“The governor’s directive helps to communicate to both convention organizers and guests that we take their safety and health seriously, but we still value and welcome them to our city,” Belarmino said. “With the ability to choose between mask mandates or vaccination requirements, the governor is allowing a level of flexibility for our conventions, especially since we don’t truly know the trajectory of the variants in the coming year.”

Josh Swissman, founding partner of the Las Vegas-based Strategy Organization, an industry consulting firm, lauded the new directive for providing flexibility so long as it does not place additional burdens on trade show managers.

“If it’s too much and too cumbersome for you as a show organizer, you can always fall back on the lowest common denominator, which is just putting on the mask or requiring the mask. It’s a net positive,” he said. “I’d hate for them to be tripped up by added complexity.”

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