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Masks, temperature-taking and glass partitions: a new normal at valley casinos

As Morongo, Spotlight 29 and Tortoise Rock casinos gear up to open their doors Friday, they're setting the new normal with coronavirus precautions.

At Casino Morongo, plexiglass partitions will separate slot machines. Some machines will be disabled and some seats have been removed from table games and restaurants for social distancing.

Casino officials said employees and guests will be screened, and they're keeping capacity under 50 percent.

"Masks are going to be mandatory," said Casino Morongo Executive Director of Marketing Simon Farmer. "We're going to be scanning temperatures. It's a touch-free device."

Spotlight 29 and Tortoise Rock casinos are doing the same – also adding an ultraviolet air purification system, similar to that of a hospital.

"We are in a place right now where we’re starting to see the transition of businesses that were closed starting to open," said Mayor of Coachella Steven Hernandez.

Despite his city having the most coronavirus cases in the valley, Hernandez said the measures casinos plan to take are adequate for their reopen.

The county board of supervisors unanimously decided to back the decision to get casinos back up and running.

"I was impressed at the levels they’re going to," said Supervisor Jeff Hewitt. "And that’s part of the reason that we need to get them back – they’re an important part of our economy, too."

Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz called the reopen premature.

"We're in the gray zone, but in my opinion, I believe it's a little early," Ruiz said.

Some casino-goers weren't willing to take a gamble with their health at this point.

"It's too soon, I think it's too soon to be opening that kind of stuff right now," said Melvin Harmon. "There's still an increase in people getting sick right now, so it's too dangerous​."

He expressed concern for employees of the casinos.

"They're handing out cards, picking up cards, so they're going to be touching what other people are touching," Harmon said.

For others, the slow, careful approach is enough to make them feel comfortable.

"I think that it could be possible little by little, starting to open and taking the proper cautions," Andreas Navarro said.

There have not yet been announcements on reopen dates from Augustine Casino near Coachella, Fantasy Springs near Indio, and both of Agua Caliente's casinos in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.

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Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.


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