The Challenge of Reopening Nevada’s Brothels Amid COVID-19
As the number of Nevadans filing for unemployment hits record numbers due to government mandated COVID-19 business closures, the Silver State is slowly taking a foot off the social distancing brake and cautiously giving the economy some much needed gas. Nevada governor Steve Sisolak’s phase one reopening plan, which went into effect on May 9th, allows non-essential businesses such as retail stores, restaurants, barbershops and salons to resume operations under restrictions. It’s currently unclear exactly when other enterprises such as casinos, nightclubs, and Nevada’s most unique businesses, the state’s legal brothels, will be allowed to restart.
When permission to reopen Nevada’s licensed brothels is finally granted, the score of bordellos that comprise the state’s legal prostitution industry, and the hundreds of sex workers dependent on these establishments, will face unprecedented challenges. As an accomplished sex worker that operated out of a legal brothel prior to the business closures, I offer a few of my concerns regarding the imminent reopening of legal brothels amid a worldwide pandemic.
The Necessity of COVID-19 Testing for Sex Workers in Brothels
In April, Bella Cummins, a brothel owner in Wells, Nevada, announced that she plans on incorporating COVID-19 tests as part of sex worker weekly medical testing, which already includes state-mandated tests for sexually transmitted infections. She was the first brothel owner to announce her intention to implement COVID-19 tests, and I hope she won’t be the last.
I believe that testing each and every brothel sex worker for COVID-19 on at least a weekly basis is crucial to the success of legal brothels during this pandemic. Because legal brothels can have dozens of women living together on the premises at the same time, it’s vital to screen for COVID-19 regularly in order to avoid a coronavirus outbreak. A brothel is like a sorority, where women living together share kitchens, living spaces, and other common areas. Testing will be the most important factor in maintaining the safety of the working girls so that any infected courtesan can be sent home to quarantine before further problems develop. Moreover, I want my clients to have peace of mind in knowing that it will be reasonably safe to visit me and other sex workers in the brothel. Testing will ensure the highest and most reasonable level of safety when it comes to seeing a sex worker during a pandemic. Knowing that we’re tested for coronavirus in addition to STI’s will put potential clients at ease and assuage any fears they may have.
I’m aware that COVID-19 tests are in high-demand and that state leaders and officials are scrambling to acquire the necessary number of tests to safely reopen businesses. My hope is that these officials will rise to the occasion and provide enough tests so that all businesses that could benefit from test availability, including the legal brothel business, are able to purchase the necessary number of tests to safely restart. Sex workers currently pay out-of-pocket for our weekly brothel STI testing, and I’ll be happy to pay for my COVID-19 test if necessary. But there has to be tests available in order for sex workers to purchase them so that we can safely resume work. My fingers are crossed that we’ll have enough tests in the supply chain by the time the brothels reopen.
Masks During Sex?
In his phase one plan, the governor mandated that all business employees will be required to wear face coverings and that face coverings are strongly encouraged, but optional, for customers. I assume that this rule will hold true for establishments like legal brothels upon their reopening.
I’m certain that wearing masks will generally become the “new normal” in the common areas of a legal brothel, but what about in the bedroom? Each individual brothel sex worker is an independent contractor that sets her own rates for services, and sets her own rules in her boudoir. Although face coverings may end up being be optional for customers in the common areas of the brothel, most sex workers may require their customers to wear masks during sex. For many brothel patrons, this mask-wearing rule could be a bummer or even a deal-breaker. Some customers may be willing to pay a premium for a sexual encounter where one or more participants don’t wear a face covering. Increased intimacy has always been a premium within the sex industry. Kissing was a coveted and highly desired sex worker offering before the pandemic. Given that so many Americans have been isolated and going without any physical affection, there will likely be an even greater demand for that face-to-face contact despite face covering guidelines.
The Importance of Anonymity when Contact Tracing
Nevada’s legal brothels are known for maintaining the highest degree of privacy when it comes to the identity of their clients. What happens at Nevada’s brothels, stays in Nevada’s brothels. But what if a customer visits a brothel during the COVID-19 pandemic and at some point tests positive for the virus? While it’ll be unlikely he will have contracted the disease from a sex worker, it will be important for the brothel to know if an infected person visited the bordello. Will the infected customer reveal to his contact tracers that he visited a brothel?
Brothel customers are often very private about their brothel visits. Most clientele would never reveal that they visited a brothel under any circumstances. It’s important that any contact tracing system put in place by state and local governments ensures the absolute privacy of all individuals being traced. If an infected person doesn’t trust contact tracing, he will not fully reveal all of the individuals he has recently encountered, especially the sex workers he has been intimate with. Trust and anonymity regarding contact tracing will be paramount in keeping everyone safe during the pandemic.
Liability Waivers for Customers, Sex Workers?
Some businesses in the United States, like certain salons, are requiring their customers to sign a COVID-19 liability waiver, so that the business won’t be held liable if a customer catches COVID-19 while visiting the business. A few businesses have also entertained the idea of having employees sign such a waiver.
It’s yet to be determined if Nevada’s legal brothels will have sex workers or customers sign a liability waiver in order to work or receive services at the brothel during the pandemic – or if individual sex workers will ask their clients to sign one. My opinion on liability waivers is that if a business thinks it’s necessary to have customers or employees sign such a document, then that business is probably not ready to reopen. I’d rather have the brothel owner I work for put energy into making the workplace as safe as possible instead of worrying about what will happen if it’s not.
One thing’s for sure, I won’t be asking any of my customers to sign any waiver during the pandemic. I’m going to do everything I reasonably can to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19 for me and my clients. But some level of risk will always be present. It’s a free country. We all have to make decisions based on our own level of comfort as we take part the new normal – and take personal responsibility for the decisions we make.
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