LAS VEGAS — Thousands of people have gathered in Las Vegas for a tech conference that's been scaled back because of COVID-19 pandemic precautions.
The floors of the CES gadget show opened Wednesday with conference attendees required to wear masks and show proof of vaccination.
"We know that this CES is going to be different," said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association, the event's organizer. He spoke during a ribbon-cutting ceremony to launch the show.
The trade group hasn't disclosed attendance numbers but said it expects tens of thousands of people for the multi-day event, though not nearly as many as the 170,000 who showed up for the last physical CES two years ago. This year's expo features 2,300 exhibitors from 19 countries, CTA said.
A number of big tech companies pulled out ahead of the show amid concerns about the rapid spread of the omicron coronavirus variant. Some of those companies are still participating digitally.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra spoke virtually from Detroit for a keynote talk Wednesday. A last-minute cancellation took celebrity Paris Hilton off the schedule for an in-person panel discussion Wednesday about the digital assets known as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
"Some people were surprised" that Hilton wasn't there, said Amy Stroud, an NFT enthusiast who was in the standing-room-only crowd. No explanation was given for the absence, Stroud said.
Over the last two weeks, Nevada has reported an average of 2,029 new coronavirus cases per day — the highest 14-day moving average in more than a year.
The number of people hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases rose 76% over the preceding two weeks to 1,184 on Tuesday. About one in six hospital beds in the state are taken up by COVID-19 patients.
Kyra Morgan, Nevada's state biostatistician, noted last week in an update about the pandemic in Nevada that while most indoor mask requirements remain in place, businesses are subject to fewer restrictions than at this time last year.
CES organizers encouraged but did not require attendees to get tested for COVID-19 before arriving. But attendees got an extra when picking up their conference badges — a complimentary test kit made by Abbott Laboratories, whose CEO Robert Ford is scheduled to give a keynote talk Thursday. The conference is also providing on-site testing for people with symptoms and reporting those results to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.