Photo by Bridget Bennett / The New York Times via Redux
Photo by Bridget Bennett / The New York Times via Redux

When it comes to COVID-19, what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas.

Las Vegas casinos reopened June 4, and they have become a likely hotbed for the spread of the novel coronavirus, public health experts said. But if tourists return home and then test positive for COVID-19, the limitations of contact tracing in the midst of a pandemic make it unlikely such an outbreak would be identified.

Contact tracing, one of the pillars of stopping the pandemic, is a labor-intensive process where a health official tracks down anyone who’s been in contact with an infected person and takes steps to prevent the disease’s spread. But there is no national system in place for contact tracing, said Joshua Michaud, an epidemiologist and associate director of global health policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation. It’s decentralized and performed by local health agencies that may not communicate with one another, especially given their caseloads. So, if a casino had a “cluster outbreak” or “superspreading event” among visitors, it’s unlikely contact tracing would catch it, Michaud said.

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