Chins are the hot new fashion item this spring.
After more than a year of masking up in public, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the announcement May 13 that fully vaccinated individuals were cleared to doff their face coverings and strut around in public with noses and lips out for all the world to see.
At the same time, CDC guidelines noted that states, municipalities and private businesses are free to require masks as they see fit. The state announced it would follow the new guidelines, opening the door for a flurry of new policies over the first few days.
Major resorts on the Strip were no longer requiring fully vaccinated guests and employees to wear face masks, but grocery stores were still requesting that customers cover up. So where does it all stand, and what does that mean for everyone navigating new rules in a lingering pandemic that's entering its end stages?
"The risk to a vaccinated person from an unvaccinated person is low. It's not zero risk, but from what we found in the clinical trials, the vaccine prevented 95 percent of critical disease and pretty much all hospitalizations and deaths," said Brian Labus, assistant professor in the School of Public Health and member of Gov. Steve Sisolak's COVID-19 advisory panel. "It really reduces the risk a lot. It doesn't completely eliminate it, but it reduces it a lot."
That's great news for the scores of front-line, public-facing workers who are serving an increased visitor volume that's likely to keep climbing as we head into Memorial Day weekend.
As employees spend more time indoors amid full houses, those who have received their shots — about 90 percent of hospitality workers — can take comfort from the fact that their risk levels are significantly curtailed by being vaccinated, even if there are people in public who aren't wearing masks despite not being fully immunized themselves. That lower level of risk is helped by lower rates of community transmission, with a test positivity rate in Clark County currently hovering around 5 percent.
The calculus changes for those who themselves haven't yet been fully vaccinated and are around anyone who hasn't gotten any shots and may be in public without a mask on.
"I would encourage those people if they're working with the public to get vaccinated as soon as possible, because that's the best thing you can do to protect yourself from any exposures that you have," Labus said. "It really comes down to what's going on around you. If you're on opposite sides of a plexiglass shield, that's going to be very different than if you're sitting right next to somebody in the same airspace. It comes down to individual exposures and trying to minimize those as much as possible. It's not something that's easy to quantify at an individual level."
Sisolak turned over decisions on capacity limits, large gatherings and social distancing to county control on May 1, and said that the state would follow the new CDC guidelines on the day the federal agency made its announcement.
Clark County announced that starting June 1, the local restrictions would be lifted, "allowing for the return of pre-pandemic guidelines that lift restrictions involving capacity limits, large gatherings and more."
Though guidelines have changed quickly, mask requirements remain for some places including health care settings and public transportation. Private businesses are free to ask patrons to continue wearing masks as a condition of service.
Initially, the county was aiming for a 60 percent vaccination rate before dropping restrictions, but in the May 18 announcement said it would move forward despite only around 35 percent of the eligible population having completed their vaccines.
That means we're not completely out of the woods, but there's plenty of sun shining through the trees.
"There's two things I look at, which is the percent of people vaccinated and then the current data for transmission in our community," Labus said. "When the vaccination numbers are high and we're not seeing much disease in our community, then we can say we are basically past things, but until both those things happen, there's still the potential there that we could wind up with a lot of infection, hospitalizations and flare ups from time to time.
"We really have to have both those things in place, and then I'll be comfortable saying we're kind of at the end of things. It's nice to see the numbers trending lower. I'd like to see them even lower. That's going to happen as we get more and more people vaccinated."