As of 2 a.m. Thursday, Gila River Hotels & Casinos shuttered all three of its properties for two weeks amid a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Arizona.
Leaders at Gila River Hotels & Casinos declined The Arizona Republic’s repeated requests to confirm the number of employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, saying that they will not disclose the information to “protect the privacy” of their workers.
The Gila River Indian Community operates Lone Butte and Wild Horse Pass casinos near Chandler and Vee Quiva casino near Laveen.
The announcement comes a week after a security guard at Lone Butte Casino died of complications related to COVID-19, according to his family.
This is the second closure for the casinos. Like other tribal casinos across Arizona, Gila River’s three casinos shut down because of COVID-19 in mid-March. The Gila River casinos initially reopened May 15, the same day Gov. Doug Ducey lifted Arizona’s stay-at-home order.
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Casino and tribal leaders had promised to institute new safety measures when they reopened in May, including encouraging patrons to wear masks.
During the two week closure, casino officials will “reassess its current safety standards” after evaluating its safety plan with the Gila River Indian Community Council and receiving “feedback from its community and team members.”
An employee death
On June 11, Robert Washington, a 68-year old security guard at Lone Butte Casino, died in a hospital from complications related to COVID-19, according to his family.
Washington, who lived in Chandler, had returned to work in mid-May. His daughter, Lina Washington of Sacramento, said he was immediately concerned about safety measures at the casino.
“The day after reopening, he was like, ‘Lina, it was awful, it was horrible. The line was around the corner. … Eighty percent of the people weren’t wearing masks,’” Lina Washington said.
Unlike some other casinos in the Phoenix area, Gila River Hotels & Casinos were only requiring employees to wear personal protective equipment. Customers were encouraged, but not mandated, to wear masks. Lina Washington said this left her father, who was diabetic and had recently beaten prostate cancer, exposed.
Gila River officials told The Republic that it strengthened its policy last week to mandate all patrons wear masks.
Protecting public health
In a statement, Gov. Stephen Lewis said the temporary shutdown will help protect casino employees and customers, as well as those who live in the Gila River community.
“Like our sister tribes and businesses all over Arizona, we have tried to do what is best for all, while processing new information and new guidelines about the pandemic with little in the way of definitive guidance,” he said.
Last week, the casinos also instituted the mandatory mask policy.
According to a released statement, the casinos will use the closure to implement new safety measures, including:
All employees will continue to be paid in full throughout the closure and will receive full medical benefits, according to Gila River’s statement.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Gila River casinos temporarily close as Arizona COVID-19 cases rise