Las Vegas economy hit hard amid coronavirus closures

LAS VEGAS (CNN) - Some are calling Las Vegas ground zero for the U.S. economic crisis. The city is facing a crushing struggle because of the pandemic because the entire Vegas Strip is shut down.

“Emptiness, like a ghost town, and it’s like really sad,” said Alicia Garcia, a furloughed casino worker.

It’s why Garcia and so many other laid off casino workers are in a line of miles of cars - hundreds of families - outside the Boulder Station Casino. They’re not here for work but for free food from the food bank.

“I never seen myself to do this before, never seen myself to do this before, but what can you do?” Marcela Meriweather said.

A cancer survivor, Meriweather had a great union job at the MGM Casino just weeks ago.

“I said before, ‘I’m not going to go over there because maybe there’s somebody else that somebody needs that.’ And then now I have to do it. I haven’t got any unemployment,” she said.

“Guess what? The face of hunger in Las Vegas today, it looks like you and me. This is middle class people," said Brian Burton, president and CEO of Three Square Food Bank. "Over half the folks have never been in a line like this asking for help. And so these are regular people who are working solid middle class jobs and their lives just capsized overnight.”

Burton described Las Vegas as "ground zero for the economic damage.” The lights have essentially shut off on Nevada’s economy based on tourism and leisure.

No tourists, no entertainment and no jobs makes coronavirus a bigger blow to Vegas than the 2008 financial crisis. “We’re talking that this is worse because at that time at least we had some occupancy within the hotels,” said Marilyn Kirkpatrick, chairwoman for the Clark County Commission, which governs The Strip.

The key now is how casinos reopen, she said. “I’d rather open slow and methodical. I don’t think that anybody wants to close a second time,” Kirkpatrick said.

Casinos have begun rolling out reopening plans. The Venetian and Wynn casinos said guests will see new cleaning measures like thermal cameras, electrostatic sprayers using hospital-grade disinfectant and UV lights for disinfection.

Luxury driver Jimmy Prior expects under that new normal, the economy will at best crawl back. He drove up to the food bank in his Hummer. It’s what he used to drive Vegas visitors around. COVID changed life like a switch.

“It’s scary you know? Makes you realize you know what you used to have and now you don’t have it, right?” Prior said.

Nevada’s governor on Wednesday extended the state’s stay at home order to May 15. He allowed some venues to open for activities like golf, tennis and pickleball, but the order says patrons must follow social-distancing guidelines.

Copyright 2020 CNN. All rights reserved.