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The Mississippi Gaming Commission said Thursday that it will end its mask mandate for casino customers and employees as of 5 p.m. Friday.

The commission said all casinos must continue to follow other state and local rules that aim to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Sun Herald. Casinos are also free to set their own COVID-19 safety guidelines, the commission said.

Mississippi casinos were allowed to reopen on May 21, 2020 — two months after they were ordered to close after the first coronavirus cases were identified in the state.

The Gaming Commission has required masks inside Mississippi’s state-regulated casinos unless people are eating or drinking. 

Casino staff members were expected to encourage social distancing. A checklist of COVID-19 symptoms was posted at casino entrances, requesting that people not enter if they were sick.

Without a state requirement, some casinos could continue to require frequently cleaning of surfaces. 

“We do that, anyway, even before COVID,” Chett Harrison, general manager of Golden Nugget Casino Biloxi, told the newspaper. “We want it to look crisp and clean every day.”

The Mississippi state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, did not mention casinos but he said Thursday on Twitter that he has seen “some resurgence of anti-mask non science.”

“We look forward to diminishing mask use as vaccinations increase and COVID cases drop. But masks do work,” Dobbs wrote.

Mississippi health officials said Wednesday that they will allow clinics to continue using the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine because they believe the benefits outweigh any potential risk.

WJTV-TV reported that health officials said hospitals will distribute fact sheets to those signed up for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine about side effects and options for other vaccines. U.S. health officials recently lifted an 11-day pause in distribution of the vaccine to investigate rare cases of people getting blood clots after receiving it.

“The important piece of that is to make sure people are aware of the small risk that has been seen primarily in women 18-49 years of age,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said. “Make them aware there are other vaccines.”

Almost two-thirds of Mississippi residents 65 and older have now received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Still, overall numbers of inoculations are lagging in recent weeks, reflecting a lack of buy-in on the vaccine by young people.

The state Department of Health reports more than 132,000 people in Mississippi were vaccinated the week of Feb. 27. Since then, numbers of vaccinations have dropped each week. Last week, around 74,400 were vaccinated in the state.

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