The novel coronavirus currently causing trouble in China may have made it to Las Vegas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is monitoring a patient who is a candidate for the new, flu-like virus and is isolated in a Las Vegas hospital.
Mike Johnson, the community health division director at the Southern Nevada Health District, told KNPR's State of Nevada that the patient is stable and doing well.
The lab work from the patient has been sent to the CDC and results are expected either Friday or Saturday.
Johnson said disease investigators are talking to the patient about where he or she has been since returning from China and who he or she has had contact with; however, the SNHD cannot share information about where the patient works because of patient confidentiality.
There are only a handful of novel coronavirus cases in the U.S. But more than 170 have died from it in China, where travel restrictions have been set. On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared it a global health emergency.
“There is a lot we don’t know about it yet," Johnson said, "It’s a unique virus that’s circulating. There’s not a lot we can say about. What we can say right now is that the spread, human-to-human contact is very limited, and limited to close human contact...But the risk overall to the U.S. public at this point is still relatively low."
Johnson noted the symptoms of coronavirus are similar to influenza, and currently, the country is in the middle of an especially bad flu season. The big difference is the travel to China in the past 14 days.
He said if someone has a fever, cough, and shortness of breath but has not traveled to China in the past 14 days or had direct personal contact with someone with coronavirus, it is likely that person has influenza, not the coronavirus.
Already this year, 11 people in Nevada have died from the flu and 840 people have been hospitalized, which is double last year's total.
The timing couldn’t be worse for the outbreak of novel coronavirus. It’s a Lunar New Year, a holiday that usually draws thousands of Chinese tourists to Las Vegas. Johnson said the SNHD is working with the emergency managers from resorts along the Strip and downtown to keep them up to speed on the outbreak, and what to do if they have someone displaying symptoms and has traveled to China.
Mike PeQueen is the managing director and partner at Hightower Advisors, a financial services company that monitors the stock performance of local gaming companies.
He said Strip properties have not seen an impact yet but he noted it is early in the situation. American and Delta airlines have suspended flights to China, which may have an impact over the next couple of weeks.
“Anything that slows the global movement of human beings around the globe could be damaging to our tourist economy,” PeQueen said.
The bigger concern for gaming companies is the impact the outbreak is having on the gaming enclave of Macau. Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands get the majority of their revenues from casinos they own in Macau but travel to the area has been cut off and business is reportedly down by 80 percent.
“You certainly hope they will not be impacted, but if the financial strength of these employers is weakened, their ability to provide raises or benefits or hire more people will certainly be impacted. We don’t know if that’s the case yet, but the really worrisome thing to me is the traffic…going into Macau,” PeQueen said.
A downturn in tourism in Las Vegas could hurt more than just the big Strip resorts. It could hurt the businesses, like tour operators, that depend on them.
Sonny Vinuya is the president of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce. He said many people in his organization rely on visitation and the money it brings.
"We're very dependent on the tourism industry," he said, "So, the long-term effect is what we're worried about. If this goes on, and we don't get a lot of Chinese tourists in, then business will definitely suffer."
To help stop the spread of any disease, Johnson recommends washing your hands, covering nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and staying home from work or school if you're feeling ill.
SNHD - Coronavirus
SNHD - Flu Vaccine Clinics
CDC - Coronavirus
Mike Johnson, director of community health division, Southern Nevada Health District; Mike PeQueen, managing director and partner, Hightower Advisors; Sonny Vinuya, president, Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce
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