Nevada Current: Lee, Horsford, business leaders stress importance of testing to reopening businesses

April 20, 2020
In The News

The representatives joined leadership from Urban, Latin and Asian chambers of commerce Monday through Facebook live to discuss issues faced by small businesses during the shutdown and to emphasize the steps needed to be taken prior to them reopening. 

“We are determined to fight to open up our economy in a science-based, safe manner,” Lee said. “That means we need to focus on testing and making sure that testing becomes more and more widespread. We’re nowhere close. We are one-fifth of where we need to be in terms of providing testing.”

Horsford added no one wants business to be closed, but it is a necessity to prevent the further spread of the virus and to continue to promote social distancing. 

“It’s either six feet apart or six feet underground, those are our options right now,” Horsford said. 

It’s been more than a month since Gov. Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency in Nevada and called for the closure of non-essential businesses to stop the spread of the virus.

Despite the rising rates of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the growing number of deaths and the fact there is still no vaccine available, there have been calls across the state as well as the country for the return to business as usual

Peter Guzman, the president of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, said while members of the chamber are fearful that prolonged closure will kill their businesses, the governor’s decision is saving lives. 

“If we (open the economy) prematurely, if we don’t do it with medical science, then we could be in a worse situation,” Guzman said. “Remember this, America can bring back economies. We cannot bring back bodies. That’s something we have to live by now.”

Even when states lift orders for some businesses to resume, experts have indicated that there is no going back to “normal.”

“This is going to be a long process,” Lee said. “I would love to say we’re going to turn a switch in two weeks and things are going to be over. It’s not. It’s a whack-a-mole process. We’re going to start to open up the economy, you’re probably going to see some additional outbreak and then you’re going to see an additional clamp down. We need to continue to fight and make sure we get every resource into getting the proper testing.”

Had the federal government made testing a priority and the president accepted testing recommendations made by the World Health Organization, Lee argued there might not have been the shutdown to the extent we’ve seen.

“Had we had adequate testing from the beginning, we would have been able to do the type of tracking necessary,” she added. “That’s water under the bridge. We have to move forward and that’s why we are asking for more money for testing.”

This week Congress is expected to discuss legislation that would include allocating $25 billion to ramp up testing efforts. 

Horsford said any efforts to increase testing also needs to take into consideration barriers people face.

“We have to have mobile testing to go and reach people where they are,” he said. “You can’t just expect people to come out of their homes and to come to a provider. Many people may not have a provider.”

He also underscored the importance of higher testing in communities of color saying “African American, Latino, Asian American and Native American communities are disproportionately impacted.”

“When you’re 12 or 15 percent of the population but 40, 50 or 60 percent of the deaths, you’ve got a bigger problem,” he said. “We have to make sure whatever testing we’re doing is targeted to those communities that are most at risk.” 

In March, Congress passed the $2 trillion CARES Act, a stimulus package that included $360 billion for small business loans. Funding for the program’s Paycheck Protection Program was quickly depleted. 

“There are seven states that have 3 million people and Nevada ranks last in terms of access to these (PPE) loans,” Lee said. “As of last week, we had 8,600 businesses obtain loans totaling $2 billion. Compare that to Iowa, who has a similar population. They received 29,400 loans totaling $4.3 billion.”

The latest legislation being proposed also includes an additional $350 billion in funding for small business loans.