San Diego Casinos Blamed for COVID-19 Spread, Tribal Leaders Reject Assertion

Posted on: December 22, 2020, 12:33h. 

Last updated on: December 22, 2020, 01:32h.

Seven tribal casinos in San Diego County, California, are being criticized for allowing COVID-19 to spread throughout their gaming facilities.

tribal casinos San Diego COVID-19
Officials from the Viejas Casino & Resort have disputed a report claiming San Diego tribal casinos are aiding in the spread of COVID-19. Seen here are guests lining up for the casino’s reopening back in May. (Image: Fox 5 San Diego)

KPBS, a not-for-profit media organization owned by San Diego State University, says in a report that at least 638 COVID-19 cases diagnosed since June have been linked to tribal casinos in the area.

Tribal Casino — Linked COVID-19 Cases

  1. Viejas Casino & Resort — 166
  2. Sycuan Casino & Resort — 155
  3. Barona Resort & Casino — 102
  4. Jamul Casino — 91
  5. Harrah’s Resort Southern California — 57
  6. Valley View Casino & Hotel — 45
  7. Pala Casino Spa & Resort — 22

“It’s very concerning that there’s ongoing transmission in these settings,” Dr. Christian Ramers, an infectious disease specialist at San Diego State University, told KPBS. “It’s like a chain reaction. We’re not going to be able to get our hands around this epidemic when there is just this ongoing transmission.”

San Diego’s tribal casinos voluntarily suspended their operations in March to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, against California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) wishes, the sovereign enterprises began reopening to the public as early as May.

Tribe Rejects Report

The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) links a COVID-19 case to a location if the infected person had been in that area within two weeks of testing positive.

“Persons may be exposed in multiple settings, including in community exposure settings, in the household, in educational settings, and during travel,” the HHSA explains. “Potential exposure in any of these settings does not indicate a confirmed source of infection.”

The San Diego Health Department says casinos are responsible for less than one percent of all potential community exposure settings. Bars and restaurants are most responsible at 9.2 percent, and retail locations next at 9.1 percent.

Tribal leaders rejected the KPBS allegations that their casinos aren’t safe environments.

A local news agency, KPBS, released a deceptive article suggesting that Viejas Casino & Resort is directly tied to 166 cases of COVID-19 transmission since June 2020, based on KPBS’s questionable analysis of general county COVID-19 related data, not data specific to Viejas,” a statement from the casino explained.

“Prior to the publication of the article, Viejas Casino & Resort notified KPBS that only a few COVID-19 positive cases have been directly tied to Viejas. Those few cases related to a single exposure several months ago among a small group of team members in a non-public office space. Unfortunately, KPBS chose to withhold that information from its article,” the tribe added.

Barona simply said it’s “the safest casino on earth.”

Casino Coronavirus Precautions

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says casinos can take numerous steps to lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread.

The agency explains that the lowest-risk physical casino environment includes proper social distancing and the disinfecting of gaming machines between each use. Gamblers are to be spaced at least six feet apart while seated or standing.

The CDC says casinos increase their COVID-19 exposure and risk profile when table games are in operation. That’s predominantly because of dice and cards being considered high-touch items.