Health

Recent coronavirus cases at Caesars Southern Indiana are prompting some employees to call on casino management to take stricter precautionary measures.

The casino – located in Elizabeth, Ind. – reopened at 50% capacity in mid-June as Indiana entered Phase 4 of its reopening plan. In the weeks since, multiple employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The Harrison County Health Department confirmed on Thursday that there are 15 positive cases among Caesars employees.

Many supervisors and dealers at the site have had to take time off for contact tracing. Gregg Miller, a slot technician who has worked at Caesars since its opening in 1998, said one positive case forced an entire shift of the slots team to miss work to be tested for the virus.

He noted that despite the company asking employees to take steps such as not standing or sitting close to one another for extended periods of time, the number of individuals affected continues to rise.

“If this disease is this bad, that after eight to 10 minutes we need to get away from each other, then why are we open?” Miller said. “Why are we not doing other things? In my personal opinion, I think we have opened early, especially now that we’re seeing that Indiana went down and now all of a sudden we’re spiking back up.”

When a person is notified of a close contact by the casino, they are required to provide a negative test before returning to work. The company pays for up to 10 days while the employee waits for results, though that process can take up to two weeks as demand for testing has increased across the state. 

Miller also pointed to the length of time it can take for a person to be notified when they have come in close contact with a positive case. Some employees have reported not receiving notification until up to two weeks after coming in contact with infected individuals, though company officials attributed this to the amount of time it can take to process tests.

Caesars did not comment on employees’ specific concerns, but provided a statement on action taken by the company thus far.

“Caesars Southern Indiana implemented health and safety protocols to address COVID-19 in a priority effort to create a comfortable work and guest environment,” the statement reads.

“Our mandatory mask policy for employees and guests is just one example, as well as initiatives related to social distancing, optimizing air flow, mandatory temperature checks, increased cleaning and sanitation, increased non-smoking areas, and many others. Many of these are also a result of directives from the state which are also based on advice from health authorities.  We continue to learn and adapt in these challenging circumstances.  We will evaluate other ways to increase health and safety as medical science data guides us, such as the data demonstrating the effectiveness of wearing masks that drove our mandatory, universal policy.”

Employees have also raised concerns over loopholes in the mask requirement. Guests do not have to wear masks while drinking or smoking.

Last month, more than 300 Caesars workers signed a petition asking the company to enforce the use of masks more strictly. Kimberly Gillis – a representative of Unite Here Local 23, one of three unions representing casino employees – said workers would like to see a designated smoking area established outside the casino to limit potential exposure.

“We generally would like the smoke area to be designated outside of the casino,” she said. “That is ideal. There’s a whole bottom level that’s not being used right now because of them shutting down their valet. There are several options that are available to them to make it outside of the casino so there is no leeway in the mask policy.”

Union members are planning a rally on Aug. 12 to bring attention to the mask issue and call for improved health care plans.

Miller said that while increasing restrictions on smoking and asking for improved mask enforcement may generate some complaints from guests, he does not believe it will significantly impact business.

“I’ve been there for 22 years,” he said. “I have seen a lot, and there is nothing that will prevent  (them) if somebody wants to come out and gamble. They will come out and gamble.”

Caesars Southern Indiana straddles the border between Harrison and Floyd counties. Cases of COVID-19 in Floyd County have increased by roughly 75% in July, with the county now at 636 cases, up from 363 heading into July 1. Harrison County’s cases have increased by roughly 29% in that time.

An employee of Caesars Southern Indiana, Norbert “Nobby” Bostock, was the first case of COVID-19 reported in Floyd County. He died from complications in April, roughly a month after being diagnosed.

On Thursday, the Indiana State Department of Health reported 970 new cases of COVID-19, the second highest daily total of the pandemic behind the record of 998 set on July 23. The state now has a total of 65,253 cases.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.