LAS VEGAS (AP) – As the coronavirus hits record levels in Nevada, the governor has pleaded with residents to stay home. But Democrat Steve Sisolak also encouraged out-of-state visitors, the lifeblood of Nevada’s lame economy, to come to his state and spend money in Las Vegas.
The pandemic has put those responsible for this tourism dependent place in a double bind: trying to protect the economy while ensuring the safety of people.
As the state records a record number of new cases, Sisolak said he was on the verge of imposing further restrictions, but was walking a tightrope.
“I don’t want to shut down the whole economy if I can avoid it,” Sisolak told reporters on a phone call Wednesday. “We can keep everyone safe and accomplish both goals.”
Nevada’s tourism and hospitality industry has an estimated economic impact of $ 67.6 billion, employing more workers and bringing in more tax revenue to the state than any other sector. Right now, it hurts, and Nevada faces an unemployment rate of nearly 13% – the second highest in the United States behind Hawaii.
While the governor urged Nevadans to try and have their groceries delivered, forgo eating in person, and stay home, he said he welcomes tourists from out-of-state to Nevada. And although he implored residents to consider curbside pickup, he said tourists were welcome to frequent restaurants as long as they followed protocols, such as respecting the mask’s mandate in statewide.
But with the surge in cases, current measures are not working, officials admit.
Nevada reported 2,416 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday – a record of daily new cases for the state.
The Nevada Hospital Association reports that 80% of the state’s hospital beds are occupied and said in a bulletin this week that “current strategies fail to minimize the spread of serious illness.”
In Reno, where a hospital has started moving some coronavirus patients to its parking lot, the county health official recommended the governor limit gatherings statewide to 10 people.
Meanwhile, the governor faces a political crackdown on more restrictions, alongside workers, businesses and industry groups who have suffered a big financial blow and are pushing for stability and a way to hang on.
Sisolak, who is grappling with his own diagnosis of COVID-19, has not provided any details on measures he plans to announce next week to curb the spread of the virus, which has so far infected more than 131,000 Nevadans and caused 2011 deaths.
While he did not rule out temporary casino and restaurant closures, he defended the current health and safety practices in place as extensive and said he would find it difficult to make any decision that would undermine the ability to accommodate visitors.
But the governor and his staff have given little guidance on other mitigation options they may pursue.
“I don’t have a strong or definitive idea of what this looks like,” Caleb Cage, Nevada COVID-19 director said Friday.
“We’ve already placed a stay-at-home order and we’ve seen the impact on the virus and we’ve seen the impact on the economy that comes with it. And we tried to do a more focused approach and saw the impacts on both through that as well, ”he said.
Republicans in the state legislature urged the governor this week not to impose general restrictions.
In a letter released to the public, members of the Assembly’s Republican Caucus this week told Sisolak that, while “appreciating the gravity of the situation,” they warned that “tighter restrictions would lead to lower sales again. and local business income and unemployment – our state just can’t afford it.
After Nevada’s casinos, restaurants and many other businesses closed in mid-March, the state set a record unemployment rate in April at 30.1%, the highest of any state in the United States. Although most businesses have been allowed to reopen, but with restrictions, the state’s unemployment rate has been among the highest in the country for months.
The economic blow from the state’s 11-week shutdown of casinos and tourism businesses this spring worsened in the months that followed as the pandemic dampened demand.
Visitor numbers and room occupancy rates in Las Vegas in September were about half of what they were the same month in 2019. At least five resorts have weekday closures, announcing they would not take not some midweek bookings due to lack of demand.
Countless restaurants have closed. Acts of entertainment were not spared either. Several acrobatic shows were among the closed shows, including the Cirque du Soleil show “Zumanity” which ran for 17 years at the New York-New York hotel.
Venues for concerts, conventions and trade shows were capped at 250 socially distant people and hoped they could expand and host big events again. Sisolak said in late October that he hoped large event venues would be able to start filling their venues to 50% capacity in January, but it’s unclear whether that target is still under consideration.
The Nevada Resort Association, which represents the gaming and hospitality industry, has been pushing for some sort of roadmap to once again host big live events.
“The people who plan and book these events – both on our side and the people who organize events here – need some predictability,” said Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association.
Metz reported from Carson City, Nevada. He is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative body. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on secret issues.