For a city like Las Vegas that is so strongly dependent on tourism, the U.S. government’s recent announcement to ease travel restrictions to 33 countries is a call for hope. However, with the chance of sparking another upsurge in COVID-19, it may also be a double-edged sword.
The loss of tourists in our town has impacted the lives of Las Vegas residents in various ways. With over 40 billion tourists visiting the state annually, one in four Southern Nevadans were directly employed in the tourism industry prior to the pandemic.
With that magnitude of dependency on a totally shut-down industry, the secondary impacts of losing tourists were exponential and far-reaching.
A recent UNLV graduate, Tal Schlesinger, who works in sales on the Strip, relates that since the beginning of the pandemic, she “has to work harder and work more shifts” in order to meet her financial needs. The frustration and stress of working six days per week is disheartening, especially to those working to provide for their families.
Schlesinger is among the minority of tourism workers who managed to hold on to her job, as many have not been able to return since the pandemic. In July, Nevada’s unemployment rate ranked the highest in the nation at 7.7 percent.
In August, nearly 12,000 jobs were added to the Las Vegas economy, but this is just the beginning of an uphill battle. While intra-national travel and tourism is starting to perk up, the Las Vegas economy is nowhere near out of the woods yet. International tourism may be just what we need to bring some normalcy and stability back to the lives of Las Vegas residents.
However, at what cost? With the COVID-19 pandemic still pulsing through the veins of the global world, it is only a matter of time before the next significant mutation surfaces.
Echoes of the mysterious “CES 2020 flu” and other delta variant strains have not died down in our minds either. Las Vegas would almost certainly see widespread transmission through the community, as the tourism hotspot only has about 50 percent of the population fully vaccinated.
While the threat of transmission may be a possibility, the socioeconomic threats of job instability and struggling to pay the bills are real and palpable problems right now.
Three Square, a local food bank, has had to ramp up their operations in order to start directly distributing meals to the 450,000 people in the community who, overnight, began facing food instability. As stated on its website, one in four children in Las Vegas live in a food-unstable household today.
Keeping our borders closed to halt transmission at the expense of further exacerbating the very real socioeconomic crises of Las Vegas residents is unsustainable. The federal government is opening our borders to fully vaccinated individuals from around the world.
While it is not a foolproof policy to prevent COVID-19 transmission, it is a reasonable mitigation that would equip Las Vegas, and the nation, with the ability to begin the long uphill trek of restoring our economy.