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Casinos should do what’s relatively easy to reduce COVID risk

Casinos should do what’s relatively easy to reduce COVID risk

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Evidence is mounting that lockdowns weren’t a very helpful reaction to COVID-19 by governments and health experts with too little information on effective responses.

But that doesn’t mean people and businesses should do nothing to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the absence of an effective vaccine. Things like wearing a mask among people indoors and in crowds, keeping several feet apart when possible and washing hands more often are easy, almost cost-free strategies everyone can use and should be routine.

This general rule should apply to casino operations in Atlantic City as well.

The casinos already require such things as part of industrywide protocols developed by the Casino Association of New Jersey, AtlantiCare and Local 54 of United Here, and approved by the state.

The union would like to see an additional safeguard required in the city’s nine casinos — temperature checks of all guests upon arrival.

All workers already receive temperature checks, which may indicate someone may have a coronavirus infection they may not be aware of. Several casinos already take guests’ temperatures, but some don’t, relying instead on screening questionnaires.

Lots of places are checking temperatures these days, including schools and professional offices. It’s not that hard. Casinos, which already scan customers with cameras looking for self-excluded and banned gamblers, can add thermal cameras that can provide body temperatures as well.

Even having someone point an instant-reading thermometer at the forehead of an arriving guest doesn’t sound too difficult or costly. If it’s so easy and might help, might as well do it.

Unite Here wants Gov. Phil Murphy to require temperature checks like some other gambling jurisdictions.

But Murphy has taken a more arrogant step and unilaterally banned smoking in the casinos. In doing so, he threw out years of political work balancing health and business interests, and without the COVID-related science that could justify such an action under his never-ending emergency authoritarian powers.

While it might seem like common sense that smoking — which increases risk for many lung ailments and can worsen things like asthma and pneumonia — puts smokers and maybe even those near second-hand smoke at greater risk, the data so far for a COVID-smoking connection is ambivalent.

An early study in China found no link between cigarette smoking and severity of COVID-19. A study published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research found smoking modestly increases the risk for severe disease in hospitalized patients with COVID-19, particularly among younger patients without diabetes. A UC San Francisco analysis of previous research found a greater risk of disease progression in those who currently smoke or previously smoked.

Some early reports from China and France showed that the prevalence of smokers was much lower in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 than in the general population, leading some to think that smoking could be protective against COVID-19.

Experts last week were trying to sort out the risk for COVID-19 in people who smoke tobacco or cannabis products at the European Respiratory Society International Congress 2020. If they don’t know yet, Murphy and his advisers couldn’t possibly know.

Murphy seems to be using his unrestricted self-imposed emergency powers to advance the agenda of his political coalition, rather than confining his actions to pandemic-related matters supported by medical science consensus.

This unfortunately does harm, possibly to public health and surely to the public economy, but even to the democratic rule of law that enables the public to have a voice in its government and arrives at the best policies by forging agreements satisfying a wide variety of perspectives.

The coronavirus pandemic couldn’t be helped. Harmful responses not based in medical science, however, could and should be avoided.

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