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

It’s almost showtime in Sin City again, as more doors open and tourists return

Visitors walk on a pedestrian bridge between MGM Resorts International properties New York-New York Hotel & Casino and MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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COVID-19 Update

Due to a decrease in COVID-19 cases, Nevada ended its “statewide pause” and relaxed some restrictions. Starting on March 15, restrictions include:

  • Wearing a mask at all times, both inside and outside, when around people who are not part of your immediate household.
  • Restaurants and bars operating at 50 percent occupancy, with strict social distancing. No more than six patrons per table; masks worn unless actively eating or drinking. Reservations are no longer required.
  • Casinos, gyms, museums and other attractions operating at 50 percent capacity.
  • Public gatherings will return to the pre-pause restriction of 250 people, or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less.
  • Closure of brothels and adult entertainment establishments (until at least May 1).

When Las Vegas’ nonessential businesses closed their doors last March to help curb the spread of coronavirus, 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 began returning to Las Vegas in June, and the city has slowly been coming back to life ever since. January saw 1,294,800 visitors, up from 1,247,200 in December, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), though that’s still a 63.5 percent decrease from the same period last year.

These days — a bit more than one year after the statewide shutdown — social distancing seems far from the minds of tourists crowding pedestrian overpasses and sidewalks along the Strip. And on a recent Sunday evening, the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas was congested with foot traffic, while a sidewalk café in the 18b Arts District buzzed with activity. On Fremont Street East, the Downtown Container Park welcomed a regular flow of customers, and small groups of visitors rested out front near public art installations.

Nevada still has a statewide mask mandate, but only about half of those in these various crowds covered their faces.

The state raised capacity limits on most businesses to 50 percent on March 15 — an easing of restrictions that coincides with the start of the city’s pool season, which looks a little different this year. Most hotel pools require reservations for socially distanced lounge chairs and cabanas. Masks may come off only while people are in the water or actively eating and drinking.

Here’s a snapshot of the other changes visitors are finding in Vegas this season.

Hotels and Casinos

Safety protocols: After months of midweek closures, some of Las Vegas’ big resort-casinos — including Mandalay Bay, Park MGM and the Mirage — returned to 24-7 operations in early March. LINQ Hotel + Experience reopened for full-time business on March 22. Many hotels are offering low (yet rising) room rates and are maintaining their COVID-19-related health and safety protocols, including signs about proper hygiene, mask wearing and social distancing, and strict sanitation measures.

All of MGM Resorts’ properties have a comprehensive safety plan, including COVID-19 testing for employees, physical distancing rules, stand-alone handwashing stations on casino floors, digital restaurant menus, increased sanitization and electrostatic sprayers to disinfect large public spaces.

MGM Resorts, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas casino and Boyd Gaming Corp.’s Main Street Station even offer COVID-19 tests to tourists.

With coronavirus cases on the decline, capacity limits on casino floors rose from 25 percent to 50 percent on March 15. Gaming tables have been rearranged to accommodate their reduced capacities and social distancing, sometimes with plexiglass between players.

Staying Safe in Vegas

A view of social distancing signage at The Cromwell, the final strip resort to reopen

Denise Truscello/Getty Images

The Cromwell in Las Vegas

• Note the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance that travel raises your risk of infection and “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”

• Consult Vegas Smart, the LVCVA's compilation of safety protocols around the city.

• Before you arrive, download the free contract-tracing app COVID Trace from Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services; you will be notified through the app if you’re exposed to the virus during your visit.

• Always double-check opening hours of restaurants, bars and attractions, which may have changed during the outbreak.

• Carry your own hand sanitizer and hand-sanitizing wipes. While sanitizer is widely available inside hotel-casinos, you might not find any public dispensers when you’re out on the town.

 • Don’t drink from the cups and glasses in your hotel room. While sanitizing has been amped up at many hotels, there’s no guarantee the glasses have been cleaned or replaced (this is true in any city’s hotel rooms).

What’s new: Despite the pandemic, new resort-casino development has continued: The city has its first adults-only luxury casino-resort, Circa, which opened in October with 777 rooms in swank vintage style, and the world’s largest sports booking stadium. The stylish Virgin Hotels Las Vegas opens March 25 (motto: “Everyone leaves feeling better”), in place of the old Hard Rock Hotel.

Coming soon: The $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas is slated to open on the Strip this summer — a giant project with 3,500 rooms, a 24,000-square-foot Asian-themed food hall, nine “pool experiences” and more.

Restaurants and Bars

Safety protocols: Most of Las Vegas’ hot spots have reopened for dining at 50 percent capacity, including the Mayfair Supper Club at Bellagio and Catch at Aria Resort & Casino. Reservations are no longer required, up to six people are allowed per table, and tables are spaced out to allow for social distancing. Many offer touchless to-go service and/or digital menus for ordering. Guests are asked to wear masks while walking to and from tables.

Buffets, that staple of Las Vegas dining, remain closed. The Wynn Buffet had reopened as a redesigned all-you-can eat experience with servers but closed in September due to lack of demand. Caesars Palace even delayed the reopening of its usually popular Bacchanal Buffet.

Visitors are able to go to Vegas bars, taverns, wineries and breweries, but capacity is capped at 50 percent.

Pool parties like Encore Beach Club and Liquid at Aria have reopened in new guises — tweaked from high-energy parties into low-key hangouts with socially distanced seating, reservation requirements and no cover charge.

And at least one nightclub has followed suit, as Omnia at Caesars Palace reopened in March with a lounge-style atmosphere, touchless menu systems and a rigorous cleaning plan.

What’s new: While some restaurants that closed last year are unlikely to reopen, new ones are popping up in defiance of the pandemic: Los Angeles-based dumpling and noodle hot spot Din Tai Fung opened its first Las Vegas location at Aria in late 2020; chef Todd English’s The Beast Food Hall arrived in the new interactive entertainment complex Area 15 in January; and Milanese eatery Brera Osteria opened in February at the Venetian’s St. Mark’s Square.

Coming soon: Pastry chef Claude Escamilla is bringing Sweet Sin by Claude Escamilla to the LINQ Promenade in April, a pastry shop centered on a giant chocolate fountain, with taps ready to spout chocolate, white chocolate and caramel atop ice creams and desserts.

Entertainment and Activities

Safety protocols: The curtain was finally lifted for Las Vegas entertainment in October, but capacity limits kept many theaters dark. Now they’re allowed to open at 50 percent capacity, and some shows are planning returns. (Some long-running productions, including Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas and the Australian vocal quartet Human Nature at the Venetian Las Vegas, have announced they will not be back.)

Many attractions are maintaining infection-prevention measures, such as the Mob Museum (officially the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement) downtown, where visitors are asked to purchase tickets online and arrive 15 minutes early for a contactless temperature check.

The High Roller Observation Wheel, 550 feet above the Strip at the LINQ Las Vegas, requires that guests wear masks, but again is allowing visitors to book Happy Half Hour cabins: Up to 10 guests can enjoy an open bar and bartender for one full 30-minute rotation of the wheel (at $60 per person).

And yes, lovebirds can still shell out for the classic Vegas shotgun wedding, but it, too, has been transformed: The Graceland Wedding Chapel’s Elvis-themed ceremonies now require face coverings and temperature checks for all in attendance. More cautious lovebirds can marry (though not legally) with the chapel’s help online for $279, while accompanied by an Elvis impersonator singing “Love Me Tender.”

What’s new: Area 15, full of new food offerings, as well as ElectroRoll, a pop-up retro roller-skating rink that’s open through March. It also has Five Iron Golf, “an indoor golf experience,” with golf simulators; and Emporium Arcade Bar, aglow with arcade games, specializing in craft cocktails.

And opened last year — but without 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.


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Coming soon: The popular Life Is Beautiful music, art and culinary festival, which fell victim to the pandemic last year, will return to downtown Las Vegas in September.

Although modern circus company Cirque du Soleil, a longtime Vegas fixture, filed for bankruptcy protection last June, it reportedly plans to reopen, possibly this summer, its O show at the Bellagio hotel-casino and Mystere at the Treasure Island hotel-casino.

And the stars are returning. Usher has announced a residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace to start in July; and the iconic Donny Osmond plans to begin a solo residency at Harrah’s in August.

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. 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. It's been updated to reflect new openings and safety procedures in Las Vegas. 

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