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August 25, 2020 -- Travelers who visit Las Vegas casinos and then return home could be spreading the coronavirus to states across the country, according to a ProPublica report.

During a Friday-to-Monday timeframe in mid-July, about 26,000 smartphones were tracked on the Las Vegas Strip that then appeared in 47 states across the country within the same weekend. The phones showed up in every state in the contiguous U.S. except Maine.

The analysis, based on data from companies X-Mode and Tectonix, comes from fitness and weather apps that people use to track their locations. The data represents about 5% of smartphone users in the U.S.

About 3,700 devices were seen in Southern California. Another 2,700 appeared in Arizona, and 1,000 popped up in Texas. More than 800 traveled to Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago or Cleveland, and 100 went to New York.

In the five weeks after Las Vegas casinos reopened on June 4, COVID-19 cases increased by tenfold in the area, the news outlet reported.

Public health officials have expressed concerns about typical Las Vegas travel, where visitors often fly in for the weekend and then return home before they show symptoms, which hinders the ability to trace coronavirus contacts for anyone who tests positive for COVID-19. If an outbreak happens at a casino or hotel, contact tracers may not be able to spot clusters.

“The way it’s set up right now, contact tracers are not looking for clusters that might identify outbreaks tied to traveling to a casino or other specific locations,” Joshua Michaud, an epidemiologist and associate director of global health policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, told the news outlet.

“You’re not actively looking for it, so you might miss that event,” he said. “Contact tracing is not set up to answer those questions, so you’ll still be in the dark.”

Show Sources

ProPublica, “Cellphone Data Shows How Las Vegas Is ‘Gambling With Lives’ Across the Country.”

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