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Sisolak recalls moment he knew he needed to close schools, businesses

Updated March 6, 2021 - 6:56 am

Gov. Steve Sisolak recalled Friday the moment last March when he recognized the enormity of the looming coronavirus crisis and the impact it would have on Nevadans.

He had a decision to make after meeting with his advisers about the possibility of closing schools and businesses in an attempt to stop the spread of what was then a little-known virus. The Democratic governor stepped out onto the balcony of his office in the Sawyer Building in downtown Las Vegas.

“You could see the lights downtown and on the Strip, and I remember saying to myself, ‘If you say shut down these businesses, those lights are all going to go dark and those people are all going to be out of work,’ ” the governor said in an interview on the anniversary of the announcement of the first COVID-19 case in the state.

“And that’s the first time it really hit me … just the enormity of the impact of what we’re dealing with,” he continued. “I said, ‘OK, we got to shut it down.’ I know it was the right decision at the right time. But it wasn’t an easy one.”

On March 15, Sisolak issued a directive closing schools. On March 17, he directed the closure of businesses deemed nonessential.

‘We made the best decision’

On Friday, the governor declined to engage in Monday morning quarterbacking on whether, knowing what he knows now, he would have done anything differently in the first year of the pandemic.

“I am confident and I feel in my heart that we made the best decision with the information we got at the time,” he said.

“I know a lot more about the virus,” he added. “I know a lot more about the business economics of this. I know a lot more about our health care system. I know a lot more about your social protocols. I know a lot more about all those things. I didn’t have that knowledge at the time. I’ve never dealt with a pandemic. Governors have never dealt with a pandemic. So, I’m happy we made the right decision with the information we had.”

He did reflect on what might have been his lowest point of the past year, which occurred early in the pandemic.

“I remember being on governors’ calls, and I couldn’t get enough test kits yet to test our citizens or residents,” Sisolak said. “And (I remember) getting on a call with the president and his task force and them saying, ‘Oh, you can have all you want, we’ve got all we want and we can ship it to you.’

“You’re not shipping it to me; I’m not getting it,” he continued, his voice rising. “What’s so bad is I had the governor in Arizona (Doug Ducey, a Republican) give me material for test kits because they had given him so much that he couldn’t even use it all.”

‘Dark, sleepless nights’

“Remember way back when we’re doing this, we didn’t have enough of anything. And it was like, ‘OK, how are we possibly going to dig our way out?’ And it was issue after issue,” with cases continuing to rise. “There were some pretty dark, sleepless nights there for a while.”

He sees better times ahead. “I think that you’re going to see restrictions (on businesses) are going to go to 50 percent capacity a week from Monday, on the 15th, which I’m excited about,” the governor said.

He believes that vaccinations are the key to the return of conventions to Las Vegas, a mainstay of the economy.

“The more people that we get vaccinated, the quicker and the better we’re going to come out of this,” he said.

He hopes for a full return to the classroom by students and teachers in Clark County by the fall.

“I’m certainly hopeful by the summer or this fall, we’ll have people back watching the basketball games and football games and kids back to school, five days a week in the classrooms,” he said.

Clark County is the last Nevada county to return kids and teachers to the classroom.

“Those kids have missed a lot. It’s been my intention to get them back to school for a long, long time. It’s difficult in Southern Nevada to make that happen, but it’s starting to finally come around.”

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.

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