Public officials try to offer assurances

A near-empty baggage claim at the Las Vegas airport March 17. (Nevada Current file photo)

Questions for Nevada Rep. Susie Lee and local officials during a tele-town hall Tuesday reflected the palpable anxiety in Southern Nevada — and that was before Nevada announced the closures of non-essential businesses for 30 days.

“We have a small business in Vegas and we closed down voluntarily to protect our employees and everyone else, however, our landlord isn’t going to feel sorry for us. Once our rent is due the first we’ll be evicted the 6th,” said a man who identified as John during the tele-town hall, asking what would be done legislatively to put a moratorium on evictions.

Others similarly expressed worry about facing evictions.

Lee assured that the Las Vegas Justice Court is halting eviction proceedings.

Others calling to the tele-town hall worried about the cost of childcare while students were home for the next month, and what was being done to help the elderly who can not leave their homes.

Lee pointed to the first rounds of federal relief measures, and said her office will work to connect people with resources, including Nevada’s share of an estimated $7 billion in low-interest loans for small businesses affected by closures, to help cushion the economic blow.

Those funds are part of a bipartisan emergency supplemental appropriation bill of $8.3 billion to address COVID-19 that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support earlier this month.

“We are already feeling the impact on our economy,” Lee said. “This is going to test us as a community.” 

“This is incredibly scary for some families especially those who have individual family members who are elderly or have compromised immune systems,” Lee said. “It’s incredibly stressful to small business owners who are being forced out of business and employees who are being completely laid off.”

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft said the county’s social service office has a series of rent assistance programs that they are ramping up. Naft said he has had discussions with three of the largest apartment rental operations in Clark County through the Clark County Rental Association stressing the importance of not placing further burdens on residents. 

“We also offer financial assistance service which might be most important at this time,” Naft said.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which includes free coronavirus testing, establishes paid leave, enhances unemployment insurance, strengthens food security initiatives, and protects workers who are in contact with those who have been exposed or are responsible for cleaning at-risk places.

That bill includes a provision from Lee which would ensure that workers have access to extended, job-protected leave during the COVID-19 pandemic by significantly expanding the number of U.S. workers who can take up to 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

“We need to address these problems head on, starting with enacting the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” said Lee in a statement. “We remain committed to ensuring that Nevadans get the resources they need during this national emergency.”

But those provisions only apply to some workers. And now Nevada and the nation are awaiting far more substantial federal relief programs, including the prospect of cash payments to individuals, under discussion in Washington.

During his televised announcement Tuesday, Sisolak applauded the Families First Act, but also urged Congress to quickly move on more far-reaching relief measures. “I hope Congress will support direct cash grants to people of all walks of life so that families can keep putting food on the table, paying their rent, and keeping their lives together,” the governor said.

Lee said her office is currently working to assure additional legislation will benefit the travel and tourism economy.

“When I got to the floor of the House last week I approached the Speaker of the House immediately and explained to her how at risk Nevada is because of this virus, because our community relies so much on the service industry, industry that relies on human to human contact,” Lee said.

State officials discussed developments in the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing response in southern Nevada.  Lee was joined by officials with the Southern Nevada Health, Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara, City of Henderson Mayor Debra March and other local officials, including representatives from UNLV’s School of Public Health.

The Southern Nevada Health District is actively doing contact investigations, according to the manager of public health preparedness Jeff Quinn. The agency has enacted measures to improve information sharing with partners and allow more flexibility to use health district resources on immediate needs.

UNLV Infectious Disease Epidemiologist Dr. Brian Labus reiterated what health experts have been trying to lodge into the public’s consciousness — that elderly people are at higher risk of being affected by the virus but that younger people who don’t appear sick could carry the virus to more vulnerable populations. Health officials warn the virus can still be transmitted before symptoms occur. While incubation period estimates range from 1 to 14 days, it is most commonly around 5 days, according to the World Health Organization.

“Social distancing is key. By stopping the chain of transmission we are able to stop this outbreak,” Labus said.

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.