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Foxwoods reports first positive COVID-19 test of employee

Mashantucket — Foxwoods Resort Casino announced Wednesday that a casino employee had tested positive for COVID-19 two days earlier, triggering contact tracing protocols and the quarantining of “a handful” of co-workers who had close contact with the employee.

The employee was tested Monday and received the test results that day, according to Jason Guyot, Foxwoods’ senior vice president for resort operations and interim chief executive officer. Foxwoods was informed of the results the same day, Guyot said.

“We immediately started contact tracing and identified a handful of individuals the employee had been in close contact with,” he said, adding that the employee worked in a “small department, mainly in the back of the house,” and had little contact with the public.

It was the first known case of a Foxwoods employee testing positive for COVID-19, Guyot said.

Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, the region’s tribally owned casinos, partially reopened to the public on June 1 after shutting down March 17 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease. Mohegan Sun revealed last week that one of its employees had tested positive on July 5 and had been hospitalized, and that two other employees who had contact with the first employee also tested positive.

All three Mohegan Sun employees have returned to work after quarantining for 14 days, a Mohegan Sun spokesman said Wednesday.

Guyot said a Foxwoods team trained in responding to such cases identified the infected Foxwoods employee's contacts dating back to July 23, including anyone who had been within 6 feet of the employee for more than 15 minutes, even while wearing a mask.

“We’re getting them tested, and they’re all being quarantined for 14 days, even if they test negatively,” Guyot said.

It was not known where the employee contracted the disease, he said, adding, “We have no reason to believe it was here.”

“We’re confident in our resort safety protocols and the processes in place to help safeguard our teams and guests,” Guyot said in a statement Foxwoods issued Wednesday morning. “In addition to mandatory mask usage and temperature checks for everyone, we are conducting wellness screenings for team members before each shift to ensure all are healthy and feeling their best. Team members who are feeling unwell are also asked to stay home.”

“We are constantly reevaluating where safety enhancements may be necessary and remain committed to keeping Foxwoods a safe destination for everyone,” he said.

Many have considered COVID-19 cases at the casinos to be inevitable.

“From what we’ve seen throughout the country and with all the communicating we’ve done, it wasn’t a matter of if, it was when and how we handled it as an organization,” Guyot said. “Based on the surge (in COVID-19 cases) surrounding the tri-state area, it’s quite a feat to have not had a case until now. ... At some point, we assumed we would have an issue like this. What’s important is that it not become a larger issue.”

He said Foxwoods is canceling the hotel reservations of patrons who intended to travel to Foxwoods from areas on the regional travel advisory adopted by Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. The advisory, which took effect last month, requires travelers from more than 30 states with high rates of COVID-19 cases to self-quarantine for 14 days unless they've had a recent negative test. Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., were added to the list this week.

“With 34 states on the list, we must remain vigilant,” Guyot said. “We’re not running junkets from those hot spots, and we’re contacting people with reservations and letting them know about the travel advisory. It’s challenging, because some of them are very loyal guests. But we’ve made the decision not to take anyone from those states.”

Foxwoods, which has brought back about 1,900 employees — slightly less than half its pre-coronavirus workforce — has continued to reopen more and more of its amenities, according to Guyot.

Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have generated healthy gaming revenues since reopening, with both reporting only modest year-over-year declines in their June slot-machine revenues despite operating at less than full strength. Mohegan Sun reported that its overall gaming revenue — that coming from table games as well as slots — was up more than 20% from June 1 to July 20. In the same period, however, its net revenues were down nearly 11%, reflecting a steep decline in nongaming revenue.

As of Wednesday, 843 of the 989 casinos in the country had reopened, according to the American Gaming Association.

In Las Vegas, the top U.S. gaming destination, a union representing thousands of casino workers has sued casinos over COVID-19 workplace safety. Since March 1, the Culinary Workers Union has seen 22 members and/or their dependents die of COVID-19, according to the union. Through July 15, the Culinary Workers and Bartenders Union has seen 352 members, their spouses or dependents hospitalized due to the disease.

Nevada casinos were allowed to reopen June 4.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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