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Nevada Gov. Sisolak Faces Shutdown Of Tourism-Dependent Economy

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

While the fight for government resources during this pandemic has been focused on places like New York and California, every state is trying to figure out how it's going to get what it needs to fight the outbreak within its own borders. Nevada has just over 500 cases of the coronavirus, but the governor, Democrat Steve Sisolak, has essentially shut down his state's economy to respond to the pandemic. Casinos, concert venues, even liquor stores are now all closed until at least mid-April. Gatherings of 10 or more people are now banned in a state that relies on tourists.

To talk about these decisions and what he plans to do next, we're joined now by Governor Sisolak.

Welcome.

STEVE SISOLAK: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

CHANG: So I want to start with your decision to darken the strip. I understand that you have had more unemployment claims in a week than you usually see in - what? - eight or nine months. How long do you think Nevada can survive with gaming totally shut down and tourism basically at a standstill right now?

SISOLAK: Well, gaming is clearly our primary industry. Hospitality is our industry. We've got a lot of our culinary folks and hospitality workers out of work right now. But I have to take the advice of the medical experts that we're dealing with to decide how to move forward on this. They gave me advice. We've had our schools shut down for two weeks now. The strip is now dark. Downtown is dark. No gaming machines are operating in the state of Nevada right now. We have - everything but essential businesses have been shut down. So we're doing everything we can to...

CHANG: Yeah.

SISOLAK: ...Get out in front of this and flatten the curve as much as possible.

CHANG: And while people are out of work until at least mid-April, I know that your state's unemployment insurance system has been absolutely swamped. There are reports out there that some people have had to wait for hours on the phone, still couldn't get through. What is the message that you would like to tell people who are now out of work because of your executive order?

SISOLAK: Well, what is happening is we will stand behind, you know, all of our citizens and our workers, and the federal government is joining us in terms of standing behind the folks. And we've got an awful lot of people who are out of work, and our system is overloaded. We've never anticipated this much of a demand. A lot of people are applying online. Ninety-five percent of the claims have gone through. We've extended the hours. We've hired extra people to deal with our unemployment claims.

But in the meantime, it's my job to get out in front of this and protect the lives of everybody here in Nevada, and that's what we're doing. We need to limit the hospital - we're going to get more positives. We have 535...

CHANG: Right.

SISOLAK: ...And we're going to get a lot more. If we could get some test kits, we'd get a lot more. But, you know...

CHANG: Well, let's talk about that. I mean, as you're watching the country's attention focus on places like New York and California, how much do you think Nevada can compete for resources like test kits? I mean, places like New York and California are more heavily populated. They also have more corporate relationships that could offer some private sector help to provide supplies. Do you think Nevada is at a distinct disadvantage here?

SISOLAK: Well, we're at a disadvantage, and it's tough when you're pitting one state against another. Right now in my largest county, Clark County, we have 119 kits. We have gotten zero kits from the federal government - zero.

CHANG: Zero.

SISOLAK: Z-E-R-O. All of our kits have come from private donors. And, you know, the different hospitals and health centers are going out and buying them on the open market.

CHANG: And have you gotten any message from the federal government on when more test kits will arrive from them?

SISOLAK: Yeah, that they are out of stock and no word on when they would become available. So we're using the private sector. We've got an incredibly generous community. We've gone through a lot in Nevada here with - one October we had just a few years back where we had a horrific shooting, and the community stepped up and donated money. They're doing it again. Our hospitality partners are donating money. They're donating food to our food banks. They're helping with our homeless situation. They're helping with their own workers in terms of providing what they can for them. And the people of Nevada are pulling together. They're pulling together strongly.

And - but it's just - it's difficult. And for a state my size, we've got 3 million-something people here in the state of Nevada; it's tough to compete with a New York or California.

CHANG: Right.

SISOLAK: I just need to get - every single kit I can get for the state of Nevada is important to me. So that's what we're going to continue to work for.

CHANG: Now, President Trump has said that he hopes Americans can just resume normal activities by Easter. If the federal government does ease up travel restrictions by then, how are you going to feel about that decision?

SISOLAK: Well, I would not be so presumptuous as to pick a date, you know, as to when we would open our economy again. I rely on medical experts and, you know, scientists to give me that information in terms of how the disease is spreading. We will recover. You know, Nevada's strong, and Nevada is resilient. But for right now I need to protect the lives and the health of the folks...

CHANG: OK.

SISOLAK: ...In Nevada, and that's what we're focused on.

CHANG: That is Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak.

Thank you.

SISOLAK: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.