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Certain types of face coverings no longer acceptable at Sycuan Casino Resort

Environmental services worker Marcela Averion sanitizes a slot machine on opening day at Sycuan Casino on May 20.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Tribe bans bandannas, gaiters and face coverings with exhalation valves

Sycuan Casino and Resort announced that starting at 7 a.m. Friday, bandannas, gaiters and face coverings with valves will no longer be considered acceptable options at its locations, a decision that puts it at odds with less-restrictive county and state health regulations.

In an update Thursday, the tribe that operates the casino and resort just east of El Cajon said such face coverings will no longer be among its approved options because they allow unfiltered, exhaled air to escape more easily than other types of coverings, increasing the risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Eddie Ilko, Sycuan’s casino safety manager, said that guests who arrive wearing one of the unacceptable types of face coverings would not be turned away, but would instead be provided a mask that is acceptable.

Sycuan’s new rules for what constitutes an acceptable face covering is more strict than that of the County of San Diego or the state, which consider use of such face coverings compliant with mask requirements in public health orders.

Ilko told The San Diego Union-Tribune that the casino resort’s safety strategy was being guided by research on COVID-19 and government recommendations, and they constantly work to improve and adjust policies as scientists learn more about the novel coronavirus.

Recent research has indicated that the types of face coverings Sycuan no longer considers acceptable were less effective than snug-fitting surgical or multi-layer cloth masks when it comes to keeping exhaled breath from escaping into the air, Ilko said.

“A lot of times, people aren’t within that 6-foot social distance, so we want to be able to add an extra layer of protection,” Ilko said of the reason for the policy change. “So if it just means requiring certain types of masks, that’s not a lot to ask.”

He said safety teams toting disposable masks and hand-sanitizer were assigned to various areas of the property to provide the safety equipment to guests in need, and remind people of rules when necessary.

Most of the county’s casinos opened in May, defying public health guidelines that would have kept them closed. They have continued to operate indoors after the county was placed last month on a state monitoring list that restricted indoor operations at most non-essential businesses until certain COVID-19 tracking metrics are below a specified threshold.

Because casinos are on tribal lands, they’re not subject to state or county laws, such as public health restrictions. All the casinos in San Diego County have put in place many safety measures to prevent COVID-19 infections.

County officials have said they have seen COVID-19 cases among people who spent time in casinos, but as of Wednesday, they had not reported casino-linked outbreaks of three or more cases in people from different households who were all at the same casino location within a 14-day period.


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