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COVID spike thwarts plans for large events in Southern Nevada

After postponing the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association’s World Series Championship Finals twice, CEO Bob Clark said he was looking forward to finally having the competition in Las Vegas Nov. 19 through Nov. 21.

The large event had received all of the necessary stamps of approval from state and local agencies. But six days before the event was set to take place, Clark was forwarded an email saying the competition would need to be cancelled due to rising COVID-19 numbers within the state.

The last-minute cancellation cost the association an estimated $50,000, Clark said.

“We had our fingers crossed. Two weeks prior to the event, we had final approvals across the board,” he said. “Then, they said we had to shut down the event. Why wait until (less than a week before the event) to let us know that?”

Rising COVID-19 cases within the state derailed plans for a number of other large events in the state.

Denying requests

In late September, Gov. Steve Sisolak loosened the state’s restrictions for indoor and outdoor gatherings. Convention attendance was capped at 250, but organizers could apply to host up to 1,000, as long as the attendees were kept in separate groups of no more than 250 people.

Large event proposals were reviewed by pertinent local business license departments and the Southern Nevada Health District, as well as either the Nevada Department of Business and Industry or the Nevada Gaming Control Board. The Clark County Recovery Organization Workgroup was then in charge of notifying applicants of the event’s status.

The UNAA was the only applicant to have its approval rescinded, according to Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa. Nine other events with pending submissions were denied approval on Nov. 13.

“The denials were in response to SNHD determination that the large gathering would negatively impact the local health infrastructure,” Pappa said.

The Southern Nevada Health District stopped approving gatherings of more than 250 people earlier this month after Clark County’s moving seven-day average of new cases surpassed 750 cases per day, acting district health officer Fermin Leguen said.

Pappa said there is not a formal appeals process, but applicants can ask for clarification, communicate their points and possibly adjust their plan to fit approval criteria. He declined to comment on how revoking approvals could inconvenience or be a financial strain for organizers.

A ‘big mess’ for organizers

The UNAA finals were set to take place at the Orleans hotel-casino. Clark expected roughly 1,500 attendees and participants throughout the three-day event, with organizers splitting the crowd into four group of no more than 250 each day to comply with state orders.

Clark said he received approval about two weeks before the event was set to begin, and tickets went on sale around Nov. 11. Two days later, he was forwarded a letter via email telling him the event would have to be called off.

The letter, sent to the Orleans by the chairman of the Clark County Recovery Organization Enforcement Workgroup, said approval had been revoked to protect the local health infrastructure.

In the weeks leading up to the event, Clark said he had been assured that the UNAA finals would be able to operate under Nevada’s COVID-19 rules. He had considered moving the event to Texas, but felt optimistic knowing it would take place during Gov. Steve Sisolak’s two-week “Stay at Home 2.0,” which preceded new statewide COVID-19 restrictions.

By the time he received the letter, he said it was too late to move the competition to another state. He said it was “weird” having to ax the event, knowing there were other Las Vegas shows that still had a green light.

“There was Carrot Top, several shows still going on (at the time),” Clark said. “That really bothered us.”

By the time Clark pulled the plug on the event, he said roughly 1,200 tickets had been sold and another 300 or so athletes had confirmed plans to attend. In all, Clark said hundreds of people had to cancel flights, and about 1,000 hotel room reservations had to be cancelled.

Clark had considered not bringing the event back to Las Vegas, but said the venue is too “perfect” for the organization.

“It was a big mess,” he said. “It just hurt all around.”

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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