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What It's Like to Visit Vegas in the Coronavirus Era

Sin City has brought back some restrictions, but new attractions are opening and tourists are coming

Pedestrians pass in front of Caesars Palace

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When Las Vegas’ nonessential businesses closed their doors in March 2020 to help curb the spread of COVID-19, it was the first time the world-famous, neon-lit Strip had shut down since President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963. The usual 24-7 tide of tourists and traffic jams was replaced by a smattering of pedestrians and families on bicycles, and LED marquees offered well-wishes to the community rather than flashing ads for blockbuster shows and other Sin City excitement.

Tourists started returning several months into the pandemic, and by this summer, Vegas had fully reopened, reverting to pre-COVID-19 guidelines, without capacity limits and social distancing requirements. Then in July, a surge of the highly contagious delta variant led Nevada to reinstate its indoor mask mandate for everyone, vaccinated or not.

But it hasn’t stopped the tourists from coming.

July marked the strongest visitation month for Las Vegas since the pandemic began, with 3,302,400 visitors, an 11.2 percent increase from June — down just 10.4 percent from 2019 — according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA).  

August visitation rates are not yet available, but longtime Las Vegas business owner Stephen Siegel has seen slightly fewer customers since delta hit the headlines in July. He opened a 10,000-square-foot flagship location for his deli, Siegel’s Bagelmania — adjacent to a new $1 billion Las Vegas Convention Center expansion — over Memorial Day weekend.

“Business was really picking up before the spike,” he says.

Many customers complain about wearing masks, Siegel reports, so he and his staff “ask them nicely to keep them on so we don’t violate the mandate and can continue to operate.”

Here’s a snapshot of what else to expect in Las Vegas this fall.

Hotels and Casinos

Safety protocols: MGM Grand Resorts became the first hotel-casino company in Las Vegas this month to mandate vaccines for all new hires and salaried employees. Others, like Golden Entertainment’s The Strat Hotel, Casino & Skypod, will require vaccination or weekly testing for its employees, starting Sept. 15.

Though most COVID restrictions have been lifted, hotels and casinos continue to follow state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) masking guidance. Most also are still following the strict sanitation and hygiene measures implemented at the start of the pandemic.

Several properties including MGM Resorts, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas casino and Boyd Gaming Corp.’s Main Street Station continue to offer COVID-19 tests to tourists, while many properties also offer on-site vaccination clinics for employees.

Before You Go

Despite the pandemic, new resort-casino development has continued. The city has its first adults-only luxury casino-resort, Circa, which opened last October with 777 rooms in vintage style, and the world’s largest sports booking stadium. The stylish Virgin Hotels Las Vegas opened off the Strip in March, in place of the old Hard Rock Hotel.

The $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas opened this summer with 3,500 rooms, a 24,000-square-foot Asian-themed food hall, nine “pool experiences” and more.

Coming soon: Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas is undergoing a multimillion–dollar, two-year property-wide transformation — including a refreshed new design for the resorts’ rooms, suites, meeting spaces, sky lobby, signature restaurants, pool and more — to be completed in 2022.

Restaurants and Bars

Safety protocols: Restaurants and bars are pretty much business as usual, although patrons are generally asked to wear masks while walking to and from tables. Many restaurants continue to offer touchless services and digital menus, developed during the pandemic. MGM Resorts’ Las Vegas Strip properties rolled out Sin City’s first poolside mobile ordering system for cocktails and food this summer (delivery to lounge chair or daybed included).

What’s new: Chef Wolfgang Puck debuted his new Fountains Brunch at Spago at Bellagio, and the exclusive and luxurious Delilah supper club opened at Wynn Las Vegas. ¡Viva!, from Los Angeles–based chef Ray Garcia, and Brezza, from chef Nicole Brisson, both opened at Resorts World. Chef Costas Spiliadis moved his Greek restaurant, Estiatorio Milos, from the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to the Venetian.

Virgin Hotels’ arrival came with new restaurants, including the famed Nobu, Todd English’s Olives and the Mexican Casa Calavera.

Also at Virgin: Élia Beach Club, with pool and DJ music, launched in June. And Azilo Ultra Pool made its splashy debut at the Sahara Las Vegas over Labor Day weekend.

Coming soon: Las Vegas residencies for DJs will include a stint by NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal (or DJ Diesel) at XS Nightclub and Encore Beach Club through 2022. “Eatertainment” concept Flight Club will bring high-tech darts, food and cocktails to the Grand Canal Shoppes inside The Venetian Resort in spring 2022.

Downtown Las Vegas’ Carson Avenue restaurant row will welcome an outpost of the San Diego–born chain Broken Yolk Café, serving breakfast and lunch, before the end of the year.

And next spring brings Toca Madera to the Shops at Crystal near the Aria, which will become the flagship location for the high-end modern-Mexican restaurant, now in West Hollywood and Scottsdale, Ariz.


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Entertainment and activities

Safety protocols: The curtain was finally lifted for Las Vegas entertainment last October, but capacity limits kept many theaters dark until this summer. Some long-running productions, including Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas and the Australian vocal quartet Human Nature at the Venetian Las Vegas, announced they would not be back.

Cirque du Soleil reopened most of its shows, including Michael Jackson ONE at Mandalay Bay and the Beatles Love at Mirage, to packed audiences. Both the performers and audience members must wear face coverings, though patrons may lower their masks to sip drinks.

As for indoor events with 4,000 or more attendees, such as conventions and sporting events, proof of vaccination is approved as an exception to the indoor mask requirement; the choice is up to the organizer. For instance, players in the World Series of Poker at Rio Hotel-Casino, from Sept. 30 to Nov. 23, and show participants at the Global Gaming Expo, Oct. 4–7, will be required to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

A growing number of venue operators, including Live Nation and AEG Presents, are requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. The Smith Center for Performing Arts and the Brooklyn Bowl are also on that list. Same goes for attendees at the upcoming Life is Beautiful music festival in downtown Las Vegas, taking place Sept. 17–19. Unvaccinated attendees will be required to show a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of each day of the festival.

What’s new: Area15, opened last year, is “an experiential retail and entertainment complex” — a lively spot full of mind-bending exhibits and food offerings. It’s now also hosting Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, a light-and-sound show featuring the artist’s work. Kids love the new Museum of Selfies at the Linq Promenade, where you can take wacky pics in silly settings.

And you can now check out Las Vegas’ first flight ride attraction, FlyOver, a multi-sensory journey on the Strip, across from T-Mobile Arena.

Circus Circus, meanwhile, has debuted an update to its iconic midway, adding 30 new games, including the latest and most in-demand crane machines and virtual reality games. Free hourly circus acts are back, too.

And opened last year — sans fans in the stands for its inaugural season — is the sleek, nearly $2 billion, 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium, home to the city’s new NFL team, the Raiders. Ticketholders for the coming football season must show proof of vaccination through a mobile app. Fully vaccinated fans will not have to wear masks, but partially vaccinated attendees and unvaccinated children must remain masked.

Coming soon: This fall Area15 welcomes Rise — “an elevated bar experience” (everything is an “experience” in Vegas) — where customers at the bar, Oasis, can take their cocktails along for a seven-minute gondola ride 131 feet in the air and enjoy the view of the city skyline.  

Lady Gaga returns for her Jazz & Piano gig at the Park MGM’s Park Theater on Oct. 14, and diva Celine Dion brings her new Las Vegas show to Resorts World on Nov. 5, kicking it off with a performance to benefit COVID-19 Relief.

Plus, Emmy Award–winning comedian and actor Brad Garrett opens his comedy club (Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club) in a swank new home at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in time for Thanksgiving.

Transportation

The Las Vegas Monorail returns just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

Then there’s the Vegas Loop — an ambitious project from Elon Musk’s The Boring Co. It will begin as a fleet of autonomous Teslas that will transport visitors through an underground tunnel to either end of the massive Las Vegas Convention Center. (Test rides are now underway.) Eventually, the Loop is slated to expand to a people mover circulating among several Strip properties and downtown Vegas.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on September 25, 2020. It's been updated to reflect new openings and safety procedures in Las Vegas. 

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