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COVID-19 Update: Coronavirus Really Is Hitting Our Economy Hard

Last night, I was alerted to big news on the Las Vegas Strip: MGM Resorts is shutting down operations at all its casino resorts effective midnight tonight to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus. And this news dropped just hours after Wynn Resorts confirmed its Nevada casinos will also cease operations soon.

This news has major implications for both our physical and economic health. And yes, this means we need to get real about what we have to do to protect everyone’s health.

We warned you: Coronavirus is now infecting our economy.
coronavirus, COVID-19
Image from a letter obtained by Nevada Today

Just moments before Howard Stutz publicly broke the news at CDC News, MGM Resorts management sent a letter to staff detailing their plans to close all their Las Vegas properties effective midnight tonight. This comes on the heels of MGM management beginning to lay off or furlough staff, though in this letter MGM promises two full weeks of pay and continuation of health insurance benefits (for those who are already on company plans) through June 30 for those furloughed and laid off staff.

Also, this comes on the heels of Wynn Resorts announcing the closure of its Las Vegas resorts, Wynn and Encore, for at least two weeks beginning tonight. As we thoroughly discussed last week, the convention cancellations and dropping hotel prices were early signs of the sudden economic hit that Nevada is now taking on the chin. And as we explained on these pages and Michael Lyle now explains even more thoroughly at Nevada Current, these cancelled conventions and closed casinos are about to cause even more pain throughout the state.

Even if Caesars and Las Vegas Sands (Venetian and Palazzo) decide to remain open, health care officials around the world are urging prospective travelers to cancel their trips and stay home in order to avoid a more severe spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. It’s truly in everyone’s best interest not to travel. But in a state that depends on tourism to keep the lights on, this burgeoning reality of casinos and other major venues closing their doors is downright frightening.

There’s no pretending our way out of this.
Photo by Andrew Davey

Just before Governor Steve Sisolak (D) announced that all Nevada schools are closed beginning today, an individual by the name of Katie Williams attempted a Twitter fight against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or “AOC”, D-New York) and actually asked aloud, “How can you spread a virus if you’re healthy and aren’t carrying it?”

Williams challenged AOC’s social media public service announcement not to crowd bars or restaurants any further, and she did so after filing to run for an open seat on the Clark County School District (CCSD) Board of Trustees. Progressive activists in Southern Nevada and across the nation mobilized quickly to denounce the candidate they’ve dubbed “Corona Katie” and urge local voters to select someone better suited to oversee the nation’s fifth largest school district. 

This not only highlights Nevadans’ perennial challenge of ensuring proper stewardship of our public schools, but also what had been the growing chasm between right-wing operatives who’ve been preaching this twisted gospel of “Coronavirus is no big deal, so let’s live it up!” to President Donald Trump and his base, and those who were treating COVID-19 as a national emergency long before Trump finally declared it as such last Friday. 

As we’ve all had to learn the hard way, it’s far from “no big deal!” As of today, Nevada has 45 confirmed cases and one confirmed COVID-19 death. Again, when it comes to our health, it makes no sense for us to continue pretending, “It’s no big deal!” Still, we must acknowledge the economic impact of the shutdowns, layoffs, and furloughs.

Here’s why you shouldn’t get too excited about Mitt Romney’s new proposal just yet.

Over the weekend, Sisolak also announced expanded paid sick leave for state workers. Also over the weekend, the U.S. House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (which all four of Nevada’s representatives voted for) that includes compensation for small and medium-sized businesses to provide 14 days worth of (up to $511 per day of) paid sick leave for their workers. It may have not appeared to be all that big of a deal prior to this month, but we’re all having to learn the hard way now that it doesn’t pay to discourage workers from protecting themselves, their families, their co-workers, and their customers.

Despite the House’s overwhelmingly bipartisan approval (363-40) of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and its paid sick leave compromise, top Senate Republicans are grinding it to a halt in their chamber and floating amendments and/or complete alternatives to the House bill. Most notably, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is now essentially borrowing from former presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s (D) platform in calling for an emergency $1,000 universal basic income (UBI) payment for every adult U.S. citizen.

On one hand, it’s startling to see Senators Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) embrace a (differing version of the) concept that Yang had been championing on Democratic debate stages. On the other, they’re setting up a conflict between UBI and policies like paid sick leave where conflict doesn’t need to exist. 

As both AOC and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Chye-Ching Huang and Chad Stone explained over the weekend, a “one size fits all” UBI alone doesn’t meet all Americans’ needs. Without additional measures, such as expansion of health care services, expansion of unemployment insurance, and immediate relief for those at risk of losing their homes and/or losing essential utilities, that supposedly “fair and square” $1,000 payment places the working poor (especially those who are now out of work), the severely sick, and families with children at a great disadvantage, especially if the Trump administration continues to restrict access to social safety net programs like SNAP and Medicaid.

In order to protect everyone, we need to… protect everyone.
Photo by Andrew Davey

Just today, the Washoe County Health District recommended that all “non-essential businesses” (like casinos, dine-in restaurants, and bars) close for as long as necessary to prevent further spread of COVID-19. The Southern Nevada Health District soon echoed this statement, and both regional health agencies made these announcements shortly after six California counties (including San Francisco and Santa Clara) issued directives for all residents to “shelter in place” for the next three weeks.

Just in the last 100 hours, the coronavirus crisis has worsened to this point. Again, it’s in everyone’s best interest to avoid travel and large groups. But now that we’re all facing greater restrictions that are literally causing businesses to shut down (at least physically) around the world, we shouldn’t ignore the economic pain that’s resulting from these necessary health measures.

We must also recognize that in order for all of us to get better, we must all care for each other. That means we need to look beyond our own respective wishes and fears to notice those who fear they can’t afford to “shelter in place”. Unless and until we properly address everyone’s needs, we’re only making it easier for COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus to inflict more pain and suffering on all our lives.

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