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Virus case reduces operations at Las Vegas airport tower

Workers erect a barrier to an entrance at the Treasure Island casino after casinos have been ordered to shut down along the Las Vegas Strip due to the coronavirus Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Las Vegas. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/John Locher)
March 19, 2020 - 5:00 PM

LAS VEGAS - The Las Vegas airport was running Thursday with reduced operations after an air traffic controller tested positive for the coronavirus, temporarily closing the airport's control tower, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Airplanes coming into McCarran International Airport were being guided by other nearby air traffic controllers, the FAA said in a statement. Southwest Airlines, one of the biggest carriers at the airport, said it had cancelled 230 flights because of the closure. Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air said it cancelled one flight Wednesday night and diverted two others to Phoenix, but was not expecting any cancellations on Thursday.

The closure of the Las Vegas tower because of the virus was the second of its kind in the U.S. The FAA closed the control tower at Chicago's Midway International Airport on Tuesday after several technicians tested positive.

Airport officials acknowledged flight delays and cancellations, but didn’t directly attribute them to the tower closure.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the air traffic system is resilient with multiple backups and that the shift in air traffic control was part of a longstanding contingency plan.

“The safety of our staff and the travelling public is the FAA’s top priority,” Gregor said in a statement.

Las Vegas visitors hoping to see the city's famous casinos were met with closures and barricades in front of some of casino resorts after Nevada's governor ordered gambling to stop on Wednesday, along with the closure of non-essential businesses for 30 days.

Gov. Steve Sisolak urged people to stay home and help contain the coronavirus.

On Thursday, the governor signed an executive order clarifying that while casino-resorts must keep their gambling areas closed, they can keep their hotel portions open in order to avoid displacing guests or for emergency reasons. It wasn't immediately clear if any of the casino resorts were attempting to keep their hotel operations running.

Sisolak said earlier that salons, gyms, nightclubs, bars, bowling alleys, movie theatres and malls should close, along with strip clubs and legal brothels, which are scattered across rural Nevada.

The Nevada Brothel Association initially balked, but issued a statement Thursday listing several brothels that it said will close in the Reno area, Elko and Pahrump “until further notice."

"We want to be part of the solution, not the problem,” said Louis Goldberg, owner of two Elko bordellos.

The month-long freeze on gambling shut down the well-known casinos of Las Vegas and Reno along with slot machines and other devices found in grocery and convenience stores. The broad directive also closed non-essential businesses such as bars, movie theatres and gyms. Restaurants must shutter their dining rooms and only offer takeout or delivery.

Enforcing the shutdowns was left to local officials.

The city of Reno said non-essential businesses that violate the 30-day closure could be subject to $1,000 daily fines or lose their business licenses. But officials said they didn't know when they would start enforcing the shutdown.

Las Vegas police said Thursday they will not respond to calls about businesses staying open because they have not yet received a formal executive order from the governor.

Nevada has more than 95 reported cases of the virus, including one death. The vast majority of people infected get only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover in about two weeks. But many will need hospitalization — particularly vulnerable are older adults and those with existing health problems who can develop severe complications, including pneumonia.

The governor released a list of businesses considered essential, like grocery stores and pharmacies, and non-essential, like salons and movie theatres.

Sisolak’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam said he couldn't rule out the possibility that parts of Nevada would adopt shelter-in-place policies like those ordered in the San Francisco Bay Area and other parts of California.

“We are going to look at that on a daily basis with the health district and the state," he said.

There were still some visitors to Nevada, including Ashley Grams of Oakland, who said she travelled to Reno on Wednesday to "get out of California and hunker down with a friend."

"Reno seems to be four or five days behind the vibe in the Bay Area where everything is closed," she said while playing with her dog at a dog park near the mostly shuttered main casino drag. “It doesn't seem like people still are taking it quite as seriously."

Nevada has not made public data about how many applications for unemployment benefits have been filed in recent days. The governor's office on Wednesday waived a seven-day waiting period for people to begin receiving benefits and requirements that people receiving unemployment benefits search for new jobs.


Associated Press photographer John Locher in Las Vegas, writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and Scott Sonner in Reno, and Airlines Writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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