Las Vegas airport tower closes after controller gets virus
LAS VEGAS — The Las Vegas airport was running Thursday with reduced operations after an air traffic controller tested positive for the new coronavirus, temporarily closing the airport’s control tower, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Airplanes coming into McCarran International Airport were being guided by by other nearby air traffic controllers, the FAA said in a statement.
The closure of the airport’s control tower because of the virus was the second of its kind in the U.S., after the FAA on Tuesday closed the control tower at Chicago’s Midway International Airport after several technicians tested positive.
Las Vegas visitors hoping to see the city’s famous casinos on Thursday will be met with closures and barricades in front of some of them after Nevada’s governor ordered gambling to stop on Wednesday, along with the closure of non-essential businesses.
Gov. Steve Sisolak issued the unprecedented order closing the casinos this week as he urged people to stay home and help contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Pedestrians were scarce on the casino-lined Las Vegas Strip after gambling halted Wednesday. Large orange barricades were placed in front of driveways to the Wynn and Encore casinos. Padlocked gates blocked walkways and entrances to a nearby shopping mall.
The monthlong freeze on gambling shuts down not only the well-known casinos of Las Vegas and Reno — it also extends to slot machines and other devices found in groceries and convenience stores.
The broad directive also closes non-essential businesses such as bars, movie theaters and gyms. Restaurants must shutter their dining rooms and only offer takeout or delivery.
“Closed” signs were plastered across pawn shops and gift stores near the famous Reno arch, and yellow crime tape was strung across The Nugget casino, even as the marquee blinked “In downtown Reno for 50 years.”
How to enforce the shutdowns was left to local officials. Washoe Sheriff Darin Balaam said deputies have stepped up unified patrols with Reno and Sparks police, partly out of concern for potential looting or break-ins at shuttered storefronts.
“Absolutely, that’s our concern any time we have a reduction like this,” Balaam said at a news conference.
Nevada has more than 80 reported COVID-19 cases, 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 and non-essential.
Sisolak said salons, gyms, nightclubs, bars, bowling alleys, movie theaters and malls should close, along with strip clubs and legal brothels, which are scattered across rural Nevada.
Essential businesses that should remain open include pharmacies, banks, gas stations, hardware and grocery stores. Police, fire, transit and health care should remain operational along with businesses that provide services like food and shelter to the needy.
At a Las Vegas City Council meeting Wednesday, Mayor Carolyn Goodman pleaded for Sisolak to shorten the 30-day closures, saying the shutdown would cripple the local economy.
Sisolak’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Inside a liquor and wine store in Henderson, two long lines of customers waiting to check out snaked to the back. A few shoppers were wearing masks, and a worker told customers the shop would not be closing.
Patricia Beck, who was loading several cases of beer into her trunk, said she lost her job as a casino manager Wednesday night because of the governor’s order and is unsure if she’ll get it back.
“He’s basically seizing private property and shutting it down,” she said.
“I know why he did it. I get it,” Beck said. “But they don’t understand the impact of a four-hour notice that your life’s over.”
Associated Press photographer John Locher in Las Vegas and writer Scott Sonner in Reno contributed to this report.