As the coronavirus rages out of control in parts of the country, destination venues in Massachusetts are welcoming visitors under Phase 3 of the state’s staged reopening plan.
Four months after it went dark because of the coronavirus pandemic, the MGM Springfield casino reopened on Monday.
The gaming floor – along with much of the rest of the $960 million resort property – have been retrofitted for the sake of safety, according to Seth Stratton, MGM Springfield vice president and legal counsel.
"We had to actually physically move a lot of machines around to free up some of the more popular machines so that they are more socially-distanced," explained Stratton. " So, it was a combination of game popularity and which games draw the most revenue and how we could socially-distance them."
All three Massachusetts casinos are open once again under strict guidelines ordered by the state’s Gaming Commission. Everyone must wear face-coverings. There are capacity caps of about 25 percent. Slot machines are socially-distanced. Dealers and players are separated by Plexiglas. There is frequent cleaning and sanitizing. Poker, roulette, and craps games are not currently allowed.
There are fewer dining options. Customers cannot walk around the casino with a drink. The MGM casino’s hotel remains closed.
Even in this scaled down version, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said it is good to have the casino open again.
"It is a balancing act as we try to follow the medical, the health, and the science but also get our businesses going again," said Sarno.
MGM said it recalled 700 of the roughly 2,000 employees that were furloughed when the casino closed in March.
The Springfield Museums also reopened to visitors Monday. New safety protocols at the museums include mandatory face-coverings, social distancing, timed-ticketing, and capacity limits.
The casino, the museums, and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which reopened on July 8th, together bring millions of visitors annually to the region.
People traveling to Massachusetts from states outside of the Northeast are encouraged to quarantine for 14 days, but it is not a requirement.
"We remain extremely vigilant because we are very worried about how many cases there are in the rest of the country and the possibility that will lead to a second surge in the Northeast," said Dr. Sarah Haessler, an infectious disease expert at Baystate Medical Center.
She said the success of Massachusetts’ reopening plan hinges on people taking personal responsibility for wearing face coverings, keeping 6-feet apart, and frequent hand-washing.
"It always comes back to that," said Haessler. "Everybody has to do their part to protect Massachusetts from having another surge."
Public health officials say contact tracing also takes on added importance at this stage to prevent new virus outbreaks.