Last month a brothel owner told KRNV Reno that she had adopted safety procedures for when Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak gives the green light to reopen the state’s legal brothels.
Madam Bella, the owner of Bella’s Hacienda, said reopening the state’s legal brothels will be challenging amid the pandemic, and she expects to enforce social distancing and new disinfectant protocols to ensure the safety of her sex-workers, staff, and guests.
“Since the governor’s reopening plan closely mirrors the White House guidelines to Open Up America Again, I expect legal brothels to be allowed to open our doors by at least stage two of the Governor’s phased reopening, along with bars,” Bella said
“But until there’s an effective and readily available vaccine for COVID-19, it certainly can’t be ‘business as usual’ at the brothels. I’m announcing my procedures for reopening my brothel in order to be proactive and transparent, so that my customers know that the courtesans and I have every intention to reopen safely, and stay open.”
Bella said several key procedural changes would include testing sex-workers for COVID-19 on a weekly basis, integration of personal protective equipment (such as mask-wearing for anyone in the facility), and temperature checks.
“A brothel, like a nursing home, involves a group of people living in a communal environment and sharing common areas like a kitchen and gym. Regularly testing each courtesan residing at the brothel for COVID-19 will be crucial in order to reasonably ensure the health of the sex workers living alongside each other,” she said
“It will also give potential clients peace of mind in knowing that the ladies are free of coronavirus, as several of our customers are of advancing age and may be considered at-risk persons with regard to the virus.”
Chuck Muth, a spokesperson for the Nevada Brothel Association (NBA), said there is no concrete industry-wide guideline of how a brothel will operate in a post-corona world. “Things are still very up-in-the-air,” he said.
The Daily Beast said it was a mixed bag of responses among brothel owners, sex workers, and other industry players about reopening.
“It’s not ethical to open these establishments now,” said Roxanne Price, a sex worker in the Nevada brothel industry, adding that she will live off savings until an effective treatment or vaccine emerges. “Any close-contact work is probably not a good idea.”
Price said the push to reopen brothels was not based on greed or disregard for danger but due to the fragility of the industry.
Brothels in the state have no way in reopening unless Gov. Sisolak clears the industry. It appears, at this moment, there is no timeline on when a reopening will occur.
Nathan Robertson, the mayor of Ely, a town with several brothels, told The Daily Beast that he likens brothels to “health, beauty, and wellness services,” suggesting they could reopen the same time as hair and nail salons.
Epidemiologists and infectious disease experts told The Daily Beast that brothels involve closer forms of contact, including sexual acts, which pose more risk than say sitting in a barber’s chair.
Brian Labus, a communicable disease surveillance expert at the University of Nevada, said he was encouraged to see brothels “taking steps to think about how they can mitigate risks to customers.”
Anna Yeung-Cheung, an infectious disease expert at Manhattanville College, asked are sex-workers going to wear masks when they service clients?
Jeffrey Klausner, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said restricting mouth-to-mouth contact, regular screenings of sex-workers and clients, constant hygiene care, and disclaimers about the risks of having sex with strangers, could be adequate in mitigating risks.
“Opening any business too early potentially puts people at risk,” though, Labus added.
Irwin Redlener, an infectious disease expert at Columbia University, said rapid virus tests of sex-workers and clients could become standard before every sexual encounter.
In the meantime, sex-workers like Price, are living off savings during the pandemic.
“Financially, I am feeling pressure,” said Jasmine of the Desert Rose brothel in Elko, “and I will definitely be at work as soon as we can open.” Imogen Steele, a sex worker, affiliated with the Sagebrush Ranch brothel outside of Carson City, said she feels like her only alternative if she can’t go back to her brothel soon, will be “shooting deer and making deer meat jerky to sell on the street.”
Barbara Brents, an expert on Nevada’s brothels at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said anti-brothel organizations would try to seize this moment to enforce stricter government rules on the industry, which could force brothels to stay closed for a much longer period.
Like the brothel industry, casinos are also struggling to survive as they prepare to adapt to a post-corona world.
So when things do reopen, who in their right mind will have sex with a stranger at a brothel then go gamble at a Vegas casino?