Updated March 30, 2020 - 1:00 pm
A newly formed public-private partnership will help Nevada “punch above our weight” when it comes to securing medical supplies and testing kits needed to combat the spread of the new coronavirus, former MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren said Monday.
“This is very, very competitive. We’re up against bigger states, better-financed states. We’re also up against the federal government,” Murren said during a virtual news conference about the challenges of securing supplies like personal protective equipment for health care workers and COVID-19 testing kits.
Like most other states, Nevada is facing a shortage of COVID-19 testing kits and personal protective equipment for health care workers. Gov. Steve Sisolak said last week that the state has not received any of the test kits and only a fraction of the medical gear it has requested from the federal government.
Murren, whom Sisolak picked to lead the new COVID-19 Response, Relief and Recovery Task Force, said he views the group as the bridge to finding those supplies and securing the funding needed to purchase them by tapping into relationships and networks that he and others in Nevada’s private sector have built over the decades, locally and internationally.
“We feel that we’ll be able to punch above our weight because we have this unique network of the private-sector procurement companies in the state, and very philanthropic families in the state, that allow us to get the resources we need to get toward the front of the line, instead of the back of the line, and get these supplies to the state,” Murren said.
Murren also announced the members of the task force during the news conference. They include state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, NV Energy President and CEO Doug Cannon, PureStar Western Region President Alex Dixon, OptumCare Mountain West Region President Dr. Rob McBeath, Focus Companies President Steve Menzies, Nielson Consulting President Scott Nielson and Wynn Resorts Chairman Phil Satre.
Top job: equipment
The task force’s first initiative is securing the personal protective equipment and testing kits for the state, Murren said. Those things have been identified by the state’s health experts as the top priority to face the immediate threat of the spreading virus. And when it comes to finding and securing those supplies, Murren said Nevada’s private sector can move much faster than any governmental body.
“I would say that I’m impressed with the state’s efforts under just unbelievable pressure and a lot of stress. But the state is constrained by state government, like any political or elected or municipal organization is,” Murren said. “The goal of the task force is to break down barriers, which include red tape, which include avoiding going through procurement departments of state agencies, which include using a unique network, because Las Vegas is the international tourist capital of the world.”
The task force has already started to make headway into bringing those supplies to the state, Murren said. He noted Wynn Resorts donations last week of 240,000 N95 equivalent, CDC-approved respirator masks, 600,000 surgical masks and 500,000 pairs of medical gloves to hospitals throughout the Las Vegas Valley.
Murren also said that the group had raised $4 million in donations in the last 48 hours.
“We need to buy our people in Nevada time. Time to get treated. Time to get tested. Time to understand the trajectory of this disease. We need to do that,” Murren said.” We need to act quickly, and the private sector, let’s be honest, can act a lot more quickly than any state or federal agency. And so, we are acting quickly now.”
Up next: more testing
Where the money and supplies secured by the group go will be up to the state, Murren said.
Going forward, he sees the task force eventually focusing on analyzing how it can help the state expand testing capacities for the virus.
“Without that testing, we will not be able to scientifically project when that curve will flatten and when we’ll come out on the other side,” Murren said.
He said the group will also look toward how the private sector — where hundreds of thousands of Nevada workers have been laid off or furloughed as businesses across the state have shut down to slow the spread — as well as the state can recover from the crisis.
“We know the lifeblood of Nevada is to create the warm, safe, comforting environment for not only our Nevadans, but for the forty-odd million people that visit us each year,” Murren said. “So part of this task force mission is to make sure we come out stronger on the other side of this crisis. And we will.”