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Prognosis uncertain as coronavirus’ impact hits rural Southern Nevada

Updated March 25, 2020 - 8:37 am

While the new coronavirus has stunted daily life in the Las Vegas Valley, rural corners of Southern Nevada are struggling, too, but with far fewer resources to help them cope.

In gaming-dependent communities such as Mesquite and Laughlin, where the economic damage from shuttered casinos is mounting, the prevailing mood is what one resident of the former called “subdued panic,” even though no cases of COVID-19 have been reported in either town.

“You know about panic-buying, but there’s been fights at Smith’s in the morning, I hear, over food items being put into carts,” said Ray Schroeder, a Gulf War veteran. “It’s a weird apocalypse moment for us. In effect, the coronavirus is a reminder of mortality, and that freaks us out.”

But in other enclaves in Clark and Nye counties visited by three Review-Journal reporting teams on Tuesday, the climate was as variable as the spring weather.

‘We miss you!’

In Logandale, about 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas, residents attended a parade in honor of teachers at Grant Bowler Elementary, honking their horns and waving at the students and parents standing along the sidewalk in clusters.

The adults and kids cheered and waved back as the teachers passed by. Students held up signs bearing messages like “We miss you!” and yelled hello when they spotted their teachers.

“They’re doing lots of things like this,” said Camille Christiansen, a Bowler Elementary mother who attended the parade. “On St. Patrick’s Day, they had the clover hunt. Other days, they’ve had the rainbow hunt. Today, the teachers wanted to do a parade to practice social distancing but still let the kids know the teachers haven’t forgotten about them.”

Things were much more subdued in the Nye County town of Beatty, in large part because a resident had recently tested positive for COVID-19, according to Principal Chris Brockman, who oversees schools in Beatty and nearby Amargosa Valley.

The man, who is in his 60s, was declared “recovered” Tuesday by county officials after completing a 14-day self-quarantine. But before he became ill, he had visited many establishments in town, including the post office, the dollar store, the Eddie World travel stop and the Rebel gas station.

That drove many residents into their homes, where they have largely stayed since, Brockman said.

“We are limited here and in Beatty,” he said, referring to the fact that there is only a single health clinic in town with no capacity to test for the coronavirus. “I know everyone is doing the best they can, but in my opinion, if they are going to do testing they should have multiple testing units in rural communities.”

Perhaps as a result of the new bunker mentality, the shelves at Martell Market in Amargosa Valley were well stocked, with plenty of items such as bread, tortillas, canned goods and frozen entrees. There were even a few crates of oranges recently received from Florida, said owner Ed Martell.

The only thing he’s been out of is toilet paper, and he has seen people buy more sanitizers and cleaning supplies.

“We try to service as much as possible to people here so they don’t have to go Las Vegas,” said his wife, Sunny, adding that being able to stay close to home is a good way to avoid the virus.

‘Limit 1 per customer’

That wasn’t the case at the two convenience stores still open in Searchlight, about 60 miles south of Las Vegas.

At the Rebel gas station, a sign posted on the glass doors read, “While supplies last: Sanitizer, milk, water and bread. Toilet Paper Towels (limit 1 per customer).”

The store is where the locals get the most minimal of groceries, since the closest full-service grocery is more than 30 miles away. The closest urgent care is about 45 minutes away in Laughlin; the closest hospital is miles away in Bullhead City, Arizona.

The limits came after waves of people came to the small town to get groceries and toilet paper as panic-buying took hold in the Las Vegas Valley, said Alisha Lewis, a manager at the nearby El Rey Motel.

“This little town is all about the community, but the people coming from outside are taking every resource they can from us,” she said. “Because of the big city people, we can’t get what we need. We have our local stores, and that’s it.”

One “essential” business in town, the Bubbles ’n’ Bleach Laundromat, is continuing to do business and going to great lengths to ensure it complies with Gov. Steve Sisolak’s recent emergency order.

Manager Lynn Hess allows only one or two people at a time into the peeling pastel building shaped like a tunnel, and they can come by appointment only.

They are allowed to wash their clothes only if they abide by her rules, carefully handwritten on sheets of lined paper: Use an anti-bacterial cleaner, not bleach, to wipe out the inside and outside of each machine before using it and again afterward.

And whatever you do, “DO NOT SHAKE ITEMS OUT! This spreads the virus,” she wrote.

“If they follow the rules, then we can stay open,” said Hess, who said she is seeing only about a third as many customers as usual these days.

‘It’ll wipe us all out’

“I don’t want to get that thing. I don’t want my customers to get it,” Hess added, noting that she cares for her 87-year-old mother, who is in the age group most vulnerable to the disease.

“We’re just hoping and praying it doesn’t come to town, because if it does it’ll wipe us all out,” she said.

Farther south in Laughlin, the Colorado River Food Bank was doing brisk business Tuesday, providing meals to 151 families from Laughlin, Searchlight and across the river in Arizona.

The river town has been hard-hit by the closure of its casinos, including Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort, the Aquarius and the Colorado Belle.

The big turnout didn’t surprise Carol Rossi, a volunteer at the food bank.

“Well, 151 is what we usually do in the first few days of the month, but with 8,000 people out of work from casinos here, what do we do?” she said, wiping down the aisles and checking inventory, which included lots of food donated by the closed casinos. “We just had an influx of people because now they’re in more dire straits.”

Contact Alex Chhith at achhith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0290. Follow @alexchhith on Twitter. Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter. Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2936. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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