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VICTOR JOECKS: Why Sisolak shouldn’t shut down Nevada again

If there was ever a time for Gov. Steve Sisolak not to follow California’s lead, this is it.

On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he was largely shutting his state down again. Sisolak has already ordered bars shut down but, at this point, he shouldn’t restrict Nevadans any further. Here’s why.

Start with what a shutdown would do to the economy. In April, Nevada’s unemployment rate topped 30 percent. On Wednesday, Nevada got some great news. The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 15 percent in June. Think about how ridiculous it is for this to be considered a positive. During the Great Recession, Nevada’s unemployment rate topped out at 13.7 percent. Now, we’re celebrating 15 percent unemployment.

Some people dismiss concerns about the economy as putting money over people’s lives. But the economy isn’t an amorphous blob of money. It’s a shorthand way of describing the financial lives of millions of people. An unemployment rate of 30 percent means hundreds of thousands of Nevadans lost their jobs.

Many will struggle to put food on the table and find an affordable place for their family to live once enhanced unemployment benefits end. Some have worked their whole lives to start a business that’s now teetering on the brink of failure. These concerns affect people’s lives, too.

There are also health consequences to economic downturns. A 2011 peer-reviewed study in Social Science and Medicine found “that unemployment was associated with a substantially increased risk of death among broad segments of the population.” In May, a study by Well Being Trust found that a slow economic recovery would lead to an additional 154,000 deaths of despair over the next decade.

Even if health is the only factor you consider — and it shouldn’t be — another lockdown would have significant negative consequences.

The futures of tens of thousands of children are also at risk. Last spring, the Clark County School District conducted its final quarter online after Sisolak shut down schools. Superintendent Jesus Jara admitted, “Our kids didn’t learn.” If schools shut down again, this all gets worse. It will be especially destructive for low-income elementary school students. Not learning to read well has consequences that reverberate for decades.

None of this is to dismiss the seriousness of coronavirus. Nevada’s coronavirus cases have been on the rise for weeks. Note to the national mainstream media: There’s not a Republican in sight to blame for that.

The increase isn’t just a result of more testing. The percentage of people testing positive has jumped dramatically. In mid-June, the seven-day average of positive tests was 4 percent.

As of Tuesday, the latest data available on the state’s website as of this writing, it was 15.5 percent. Coronavirus hospitalizations were above their peak in April, too.

The good news is that hospitals have plenty of capacity. As of Tuesday, Southern Nevada hospitals were at 54 percent occupancy if surge plans were activated, which they haven’t been yet. Remember, the whole point of flattening the curve was to prevent excess deaths caused by insufficient hospital capacity.

Even during a pandemic, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to balancing all of life’s competing priorities — health, wealth, education, well-being. That’s the beauty and risk of living in a free country. People get to direct their lives but must live with the consequences — good or bad.

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