What It’s Like Visiting Las Vegas in the Age of COVID-19

What It’s Like Visiting Las Vegas in the Age of COVID-19
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When Las Vegas’ nonessential businesses closed their doors in March 2020 to help curb the spread of coronavirus, it was the first time the world-famous, neon-lit Strip had shut down since President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963. The usual 24-7 tide of tourists and traffic jams was replaced by a smattering of pedestrians and families on bicycles, and LED marquees offered well-wishes to the community rather than flashing ads for blockbuster shows and other Sin City excitement.

The city began creeping back to life when tourists started returning last summer, but a big leap in tourism began a few months ago. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), March 2021 visitation nearly doubled over February’s, with 2,230,100 visitors (1,540,100 in February) — still about 40 percent fewer visitors than arrived in March 2019, however.

But now Vegas is fully opening: On June 1, the city will revert to pre-pandemic guidelines, lifting all capacity limits and social distancing requirements. Many Las Vegas hotel-casinos have already adopted the CDC’s latest guidance allowing fully vaccinated people to forgo masks in most indoor and outdoor settings. And several casinos, including the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the Strat, Wynn and Encore, have already returned to 100 percent capacity.

In other words? The city feels like it’s nearly back to normal. You’ll find very few tourists wearing masks while standing in line for pictures at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign or walking along the crowded sidewalks and overpasses up and down Las Vegas Boulevard.

Inside Wynn Las Vegas, where 91 percent of employees are vaccinated, tourists and employees alike are taking advantage of the loosened mask rules, as explained on property signage. Even those who haven’t been vaccinated are allowed to go maskless at the pool, and while actively eating, drinking or smoking. Plexiglass barriers dividing players are gone and an open café buzzes with patrons, though some businesses are still closed or operating with reduced hours.

Here’s a snapshot of what else to expect in Las Vegas this summer.

Hotels and Casinos

Safety protocols: Though 80 percent occupancy restrictions and social distancing policies remain in place in non-gaming areas until June 1 (when all such restrictions will lift), the Nevada Gaming Board gave many major casinos permission to return to full capacity in May, thanks to their high workforce vaccination rates.

Some resort-casinos, like the Wynn and all MGM Resorts’ properties, dropped their mask rules for fully vaccinated employees, while others have not. 

MGM Resorts, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas casino and Boyd Gaming Corp.’s Main Street Station continue to offer COVID-19 tests to tourists, and many properties offer on-site vaccination clinics for employees.

What’s new: Despite the pandemic, new resort-casino development has continued. The city has its first adults-only luxury casino-resort, Circa, which opened in October with 777 rooms in swank vintage style, and the world’s largest sports booking stadium. The stylish Virgin Hotels Las Vegas opened off the Strip in March (motto: “Everyone leaves feeling better”), in place of the old Hard Rock Hotel.

Coming soon: The $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas is slated to open on the Strip this summer — a giant project with 3,500 rooms, a 24,000-square-foot Asian-themed food hall, nine “pool experiences” and more.

Restaurants and Bars

Safety protocols: Restaurants and bars return to pre-pandemic guidelines on June 1, and mask rules may vary by venue, though patrons who are not vaccinated are generally asked to wear masks while walking to and from tables.

Many restaurants will continue to offer touchless services and digital menus, developed during the pandemic. MGM Resorts’ Las Vegas Strip properties is rolling out Sin City’s first poolside mobile ordering system for cocktails and food on June 1 (delivery to lounge chair or daybed included).

What’s new: The quintessential Vegas buffet is back and it’s better than ever. Wicked Spoon reopened at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in March. Garden Buffet at South Point is also open. The much-lauded Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace reopened in May with a multimillion-dollar redesign to the venue and the menu, including 30 new dishes. The MGM Grand Buffet and the Circus Buffet at Circus Circus Las Vegas are reopening as well.

The partying begins with the start of summer, including the return of Drai’s Nightclub atop the Cromwell. Daylight Beach at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino touts a lineup of DJs and entertainment. Industry night parties return to Hakkasan Nightclub at MGM Grand and Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace on June 8.

Coming soon: Las Vegas residencies for DJs will include a stint by NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal (or DJ Diesel) at XS Nightclub and Encore Beach Club through 2022. Élia Beach Club debuts June 10 at Virgin Hotels. “Eatertainment” concept Flight Club will bring high-tech darts, food and cocktails to the Grand Canal Shoppes inside The Venetian Resort in Spring 2022.

Entertainment and activities

Safety protocols: The curtain was finally lifted for Las Vegas entertainment in October, but capacity limits kept many theaters dark until now. Some long-running productions, including Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas, the Australian vocal quartet Human Nature at the Venetian Las Vegas and Chippendales at the Rio announced they would not be back — though the strip revue’s handsome hunks recently teased a return at a yet-to-be-determined location.

During the pandemic, Finger Licking Foodie Tours began (and continues) to offer self-guided, socially distanced culinary experiences in downtown Las Vegas and Chinatown, as well as the Venetian and Wynn on the Strip, and Green Valley Ranch in Henderson.

What’s new: Area 15, full of new food offerings, as well a Museum of Selfies with an upside-down room and emoji pool (opening June 1) at the Linq Promenade. Circus Circus, meanwhile, has debuted an update to its iconic midway, adding 30 new games including the latest and most in-demand crane machines and virtual reality games. Free hourly circus acts are back, too.

And opened last year — sans fans in the stands for its inaugural season — is the sleek, nearly $2 billion, 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium. Home to the city’s new NFL team, the Raiders, the stadium is expected to be full of fans for the coming football season.

Coming soon: The popular Life Is Beautiful music, art and culinary festival, which fell victim to the pandemic last year, will return to downtown Las Vegas in September.

Although modern circus company Cirque du Soleil filed for bankruptcy protection last June, the longtime Vegas fixture will reopen O at the Bellagio hotel-casino and Mystere at the Treasure Island hotel-casino as of July. Blue Man Group will return to Luxor Hotel and Casino as well. In Downtown Las Vegas, free live music is back at the Fremont Street Experience.

The stars are returning, too. Usher already added six dates to his residency starting in July at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace; the iconic Donny Osmond begins a solo residency at Harrah’s in August. Also in August, the Jonas Brothers will kick off their 44-date tour at Park Theater at Park MGM. Plus, Resorts World has revealed a legendary lineup of headliners for its 5,000-seat theater, starting with Celine Dion in November.


The Las Vegas Monorail returns just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

Then there’s the Vegas Loop — an ambitious project from Elon Musk’s The Boring Co. It will begin as a fleet of autonomous Teslas that will transport visitors through an underground tunnel to either end of the massive Las Vegas Convention Center. (Test rides are now underway.) Eventually, the Loop is slated to expand to a people mover circulating among several Strip properties and downtown Vegas.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on September 25, 2020. It's been updated to reflect new openings and safety procedures in Las Vegas.