Vegas Casinos Lift Mask Rules; U.S. to Ease Travel: Virus Update

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Bloomberg News

(Bloomberg) —

Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Las Vegas Sands Corp. will tell vaccinated guests they can stop wearing masks. That makes the Nevada casino operators among the first companies to amend their masking and social-distancing policies following revised guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Walmart, the U.S.’s largest private employer, also said vaccinated workers and customers can leave their masks at home.

U.S. states diverged on easing mask-wearing rules after the federal government relaxed its guidance. North Carolina lifted its rules for all people, vaccinated or not, while New Jersey continued to require masks indoors. The Biden administration will also begin revising its guidance for travel and other sectors, as it linked its mask shift to a study showing the “real world” effectiveness of vaccines.

Rising cases of the India variant of coronavirus could force the U.K. government to delay plans to end the pandemic lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned. England’s chief medical officer said he expects the strain will become dominant there.

Key Developments

Global Tracker: Cases top 161.3 million; deaths exceed 3.3 millionVaccine Tracker: More than 1.41 billion doses have been givenA day in the life of Wall Street shows NYC at cusp of comebackCDC’s U-turn puts business in ‘damned if you do’ (or don’t) bindPutin got vaccinated but still only a select few can meet himWhere are we in hunting for the coronavirus’s origin?: QuickTake

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Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click CVID on the terminal for global data on cases and deaths.

Oklahoma Reports India Variant (6:15 a.m. HK)

Oklahoma has found a cluster of 17 cases of a virus variant first found in India, the state’s department of health reported. Among the cases, three people were fully vaccinated and two were partially vaccinated. The B.1.617.2 variant, which is also spreading quickly in the U.K., is not listed as a variant of concern by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maryland, Virginia Lift Mask Mandates (5:59 p.m. NY)

Virginia and Maryland lifted their mask mandates in all but a few circumstances following new CDC guidance, while recommending that unvaccinated people continue to wear them.

“If fully vaccinated, you should feel free to safely resume any activities without wearing a mask indoors or outdoors,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, said at a news conference. “Those who have not been vaccinated are strongly advised to immediately do so.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, said on Twitter: “It’s very simple. It’s either a shot or a mask. It’s up to you.” For those not vaccinated, he said, “we strongly encourage you to wear masks in public.”

Both states carved out exceptions such as schools, and businesses are permitted to impose their own mask requirements.

Walmart Drops Masks for Vaccinated (5:20 p.m. NY)

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Walmart Inc. said fully vaccinated staff and customers can now leave their masks at home, a decision that could influence how other businesses respond to the latest government guidance.

The nation’s biggest private employer said fully vaccinated staff need not wear a mask at work starting May 18, the same day the retailer reports first-quarter results. The rule applies to all of its U.S. Walmart and Sam’s Club locations, distribution centers and offices. Customers who have been inoculated can also shop without face coverings as of Friday, although masks could still be required by some local ordinances, Walmart executives said in a memo to employees Friday.

CDC Had to ‘Take a Chance’ (4:45 p.m. NY)

The CDC’s relaxed mask-wearing guidance is open to revision, particularly if there are local outbreaks or if gathering in relatively sparse crowds is found to cause an increase in cases, National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins said.

“If it looks in certain communities the virus is coming back, or if there’s a new variant that seems particularly contagious, then we may need to adjust that,” Collins said on MSNBC. Even so, “it’s time to take that chance, as they have now done, and to see if all of us can get a little closer back to normal life,” he said.

N.J. to Keep Indoor Mask Mandate (4:38 p.m. NY)

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is leaving the state’s indoor mask mandate in place for public settings, according to a tweet. “We’re making incredible progress, but we’re not there yet.” Among all U.S. states, New Jersey, the most densely populated, has the fourth-lowest case count per capita, he wrote.

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Republicans — who, like Murphy, are running for re-election in November — criticized the governor. “According to the CDC, the science doesn’t support waiting weeks — it supports lifting unjustified mandates today,” Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, a River Vale Republican seeking a Senate seat, said in a statement.

Pennsylvania Surprised by Mask Shift (3:45 p.m. NY)

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said the state is evaluating whether to further lift mask rules, a day after deciding to follow federal guidance easing rules for fully vaccinated people.

“We were taken by surprise by the CDC announcement, and as of today, we’re still looking at it,” the Democratic governor said on MSNBC.

He said the state is committed to dropping the mask mandate completely when 70% of adults are fully vaccinated — a goal he said he expects to hit within two months. The state is slated for full reopening, apart from the mask mandate, at the end of May.

Canada Eyes Opening U.S Border (3:07 p.m. NY)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has begun preliminary internal discussions about reopening the border with the U.S., even as Canada remains well behind its neighbor in vaccinations.

Senior officials have begun to formally talk about options for how to proceed, three people familiar with the matter said, speaking on the condition they not be identified. One question under consideration is whether to employ a two-track system in which quarantine and testing requirements would be relaxed for vaccinated travelers.

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Colorado Drops Masks for Vaccinated (2:52 p.m. NY)

Colorado dropped mask requirements for people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19, effective immediately, Governor Jared Polis announced at a news conference in Denver. “The pandemic is not yet over but if you are vaccinated it is largely over for you,” Polis said. Mask requirements will remain in place for schools, prisons and motor vehicles agency office until June 1.

U.S. Asks About Pandemic’s End (2:28 p.m. NY)

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai asked Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, about how it will declare the end of a pandemic, according to a statement from her office.

They also discussed how to increase vaccine production and access, as well as waiving intellectual property rights on shots.

N. Carolina Eases Mask Rules for All (2:05 p.m. NY)

Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina went beyond the new federal rules for loosening mask requirements and eased masking for everyone, indoors and out, whether or not a person is fully vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limited its mask easing to the fully vaccinated. he said mask requirements would remain only in settings like schools, public transportation and prisons.

“This is a big step forward, in living our lives the way they were before the pandemic,” the Democratic governor said in a news conference, according to the New & Observer.

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Vegas Resorts Move on Masks (1:35 p.m. NY)

Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Las Vegas Sands Corp., two Nevada casino operators, will tell vaccinated guests they can stop wearing masks, following new guidance from state and federal regulators.

Wynn plans to begin delivering that message to customers Friday evening, trusting guests to take the appropriate precautions based on their personal vaccination status, according to a statement. Sands said that while it won’t ask vaccinated patrons to wear masks, it is still requiring staff to do so for now.

MGM Resorts International, the largest casino operator on the Las Vegas Strip, is expected to update its policy shortly.

The companies are among the first to amend their masking and social-distancing policies following the revised guidance Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency said vaccinated persons could stop wearing masks both indoors and out in almost all circumstances.

CDC Links Mask Rules to Study (1:25 p.m. NY)

The Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine and the Moderna Inc. shot were 94% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 in a real-world study of health-care workers that was key to the federal decision to ease restrictions for fully vaccinated people.

“This report provided the most compelling information to date that Covid-19 vaccines were performing as expected in the real world,” Rochelle Walensky, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement.

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Variant Threatens U.K. Reopening (1:22 p.m. NY)

Rising cases of the India variant of coronavirus could force the U.K. government to delay plans to end the pandemic lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned.

Speaking in London, the premier announced the government will speed up second doses of vaccines for the over-50s and for vulnerable groups in an effort to combat the new strain. The gap between first and second doses will be cut to eight weeks from 12 for these groups, he said.

“I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress,” Johnson said at a press conference. It could be “more difficult” to move to the final phase of lockdown easing on June 21, he said.

Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty said: “We expect over time that this variant will come to take over and to dominate in the U.K.”

Michigan, Kentucky Ease Mask Rules (12:28 p.m. NY)

Michigan and Kentucky said Friday they would adopt the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on easing mask wearing for fully vaccinated people. Roughly half a dozen other states have they would begin to lift mandates in accordance with the CDC guidance.

“We can now safely and confidently take the next step to get back to normal,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement.

Governor Andy Beshear announced that Kentucky would lift all remaining capacity restrictions on businesses and events on June 11.

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Delta Mandates Shots for New Hires (11:36 a.m. NY)

Delta Air Lines Inc. will require that new hires be vaccinated against Covid-19, aiming to protect employees and customers as demand for domestic air travel continues to climb.

The carrier has “made great progress to achieve herd immunity,” a trajectory it wants to maintain with the new standard, Delta said Friday. Vaccination isn’t required for current workers, though more than 60% of its workforce has received shots.

Massachusetts to Review Reopening (11:31 a.m. NY)

Governor Charlie Baker said Massachusetts will update its reopening plans next week, following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control relaxing of mask rules for fully vaccinated people. He tweeted Friday that the change was “great news,” though his office said the day before that the state’s mask rules would remain in place for the time being.

His current reopening plan calls for higher capacity limits for restaurants and gatherings at the end of this month and the lifting of most other restrictions by August. Massachusetts has the second-highest rate of vaccinations in the U.S. after Vermont, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

U.S. Reviews Travel Guidance (10:53 a.m. NY)

The Biden administration will begin updating its guidance for travel and other sectors — likely further relaxing rules across the U.S. after largely lifting its mask mandate for vaccinated people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people could go without a mask in most settings, even indoors in large crowds, in what was a key milestone in the U.S. path out of the pandemic.

Other steps will follow. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday that the agency would update guidance for travel, schools and other things, and the White House is signaling to government agencies that they also can loosen mask rules.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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