Las Vegas entertainers fear dire straits as weeks of unemployment turn to months

(CNN)In those long-ago days of early 2020, business was cranking for Adam Flowers, a former street magician with an enterprising mind.

The owner of a Las Vegas tour business that includes ghost and mob tours, Flowers had just teamed up with 81-year-old Frank Cullotta, an admitted former hitman for the mob. They parlayed Cullotta's violent crimes of the past -- which Cullotta says included murder -- into a schtick, creating a YouTube channel called "Coffee with Cullotta." It racked up thousands of views, which in turn drove visitors to the physical tour.
Things were going well at home, too. Flowers, 43, had moved his retired parents to Las Vegas from Chicago the prior year. His wife worked as a technical director at Caesars Entertainment.
Then came the coronavirus.
By summer, Flowers' tour business was on hold, his wife was furloughed, they were living on unemployment, and Flowers and Cullotta were both stricken with Covid-19 -- too ill to record more episodes.
But that's not the worst. On July 9, Flowers' father -- John Flowers, a former firefighter and amateur magician who inspired his son to pursue showbusiness -- died of Covid-19.
"It's a lot to have happen to you all at once," Flowers said.
A sign advises people to minimize the spread of germs along the Las Vegas Strip, devoid of the usual crowds during the coronavirus outbreak.
As the US struggles to contain a virus and shore up its battered economy, few states are facing a Catch-22 as stark as the one in Nevada: Reopen the bars and large entertainment venues and risk an upsurge of deadly infections. Keep everything closed and deal with Depression-era levels of unemployment and the death of businesses.
At 15%, the state's unemployment rate in June -- the latest available data -- is the fourth highest in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The July figures for states will be released August 21.) It does mark an improvement: Nevada's jobless rate was twice as high back in April, when it topped the nation.
Although bars remain shuttered, the casinos -- which were closed for more than two months -- reopened in early June, and the city witnessed a brief surge of car travelers from Western states.
But Covid-19 infections and deaths in Nevada rose steadily through July.
Jeremy Aguero, an economist with Las Vegas policy research firm Applied Analysis, believes Nevada's jobless rate will soon worsen, because demand tapered off in July.
A full recovery, Aguero said, is between 18 and 36 months out.
"The long arc of this challenge is going to be painful," he said.
No state's economy leans more heavily on tourism than Nevada's, and tourism in the state has been walloped by the pandemic. Even with the bump in June, visitor volume that month was 70% below June of 2019, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Crowds -- the life blood of Sin City -- have become d