Three Positive COVID-19 Cases Traced To Manistee Casino Days Before Planned Start Of Stricter Mask Policy

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Days before the Little River Casino Resort in Manistee, Mich., was scheduled to begin enforcing a stricter pandemic mask policy than any other casino in Michigan, the District Health Department #10 notified the casino of three recent guests who had since tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a health department alert released Wednesday, the three infected individuals were on Little River’s property and potentially contagious between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 28, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m on Saturday, Aug. 29, and between 6:20 a.m. and 2:40 p.m. on Tuesday, Sep. 1.

The department advised anyone present at the casino during those hours to self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days, avoid close contact with others during those two weeks, and immediately quarantine and seek medical attention if they begin to experience symptoms including “fever or chills, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle aches, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and recent loss of taste or smell.”

“The [Little River] team proactively responded when notified of this exposure,” casino General Manage Andrew Gentile said in the release. “In addition to the already thorough cleaning protocols in our Health and Safety Plan, all areas were meticulously cleaned and sanitized in accordance with CDC guidelines to ensure the safety of our team members, guests, and the community.

“Little River Casino Resort has an excellent working relationship with the District Health Department #10,” Gentile continued. “The collaboration of information and resources ensures compliance with all applicable requirements and guidelines in place to keep our community, team members, and guests safe.”

The casino, which remains open, posted on Facebook to notify the public of the positive tests and to outline additional steps it would take to prevent further spread of COVID-19:

  • “Team Members with a positive test result are required to self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days and be asymptomatic for 24 hours without the aid of any medications before returning to the property.”
  • “All Team Members identified through contact tracing in close contact with a positive case are notified immediately, required to self-quarantine and remain off property until a negative coronavirus test result is received.”

New Mask Rules Beginning Labor Day

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Wednesday’s notice from the health department arrived less than a week before Little River was set to begin enforcing new, more stringent mask requirements.

Last Thursday, the casino announced that starting Monday, Sept. 7, visitors and workers would no longer be allowed to wear bandanas, neck gaiters, or masks with valves as facial coverings. Masks had been required for all workers and customers since Little River reopened in June — as was the case at the 22 other tribal casinos located in Michigan and Detroit’s three commercials casinos, when they reopened. But Little River decided to go further.

“Bandanas, gaiters, and masks with valves will no longer be acceptable face coverings,” the casino posted on Facebook. “These types of face coverings allow unfiltered, exhaled air and respiratory droplets to escape more easily. The updated requirements apply to all [Little River] team members and guests. Guests who arrive wearing an unacceptable type of face-covering will be offered a disposable mask at the entrance.”

That would make Little River’s updated mask policy the strictest in the state. According to an MI Bets review of the COVID-19 health and safety codes posted on other Michigan casinos’ websites, only Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel in Williamsburg and Leelanau Sands Casino & Lodge in Peshawbestown, both of which are owned by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, have specific prohibitions against masks with exhalation valves or vents but do not restrict bandanas or gaiters. The rest of the casinos in Michigan do not single out any type of facial covering as unacceptable.

Little River’s decision was inspired by new mask guidance released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a recent Duke University study on the effectiveness of different types of masks, according to Barry McGrady, director of gaming and marketing at Little River. The CDC recommended against wearing masks with vents because they “allow virus particles to escape,” while the Duke researchers found gaiters to be the least effective at containing respiratory droplets out of 14 mask types tested in the study. Folded bandanas also “did not offer much protection,” according to the Duke study.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

McGrady, responding to questions before District Health Department #10 confirmed the recent cases of possible COVID-19 exposure, said that Little River’s policy change was not spurred by any known instances of infection linked to the casino.

“It is important that we protect the health and safety of our team members and our guests,” he said. “We also are keeping protocols up to date as per our health and safety plan.”

Unfortunately, that proactive approach came just a week too late for Little River, which is owned and operated by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and which partnered with BetRivers to begin offering retail sports betting in July. Although the casino was working to create perhaps a safer gaming environment than any other legal betting establishment in Michigan, it still couldn’t prevent possible exposure to the virus.

“As we continue to experience community spread of COVID-19, it should be understood that anyone choosing to go out in public, whether to a bar, restaurant, golf course, retail store, family gathering, funeral, or any other public place, could potentially be exposed to COVID-19 at any time,” said Kevin Hughes, health officer for District Health Department #10. “Thus, you should always be monitoring for symptoms.”

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Rafe Bartholomew

Rafe has worked as an editor and writer at Harper's Magazine, Grantland, Eater, and The Athletic. He is a co-author of the New York Times Bestselling book Basketball: A Love Story and the author of two other books, Pacific Rims and Two and Two.

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