LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — It’s been four years since the order to shut down came. Then-Gov. Steve Sisolak’s words echo through time:

“At this time, we must act aggressively and decisively to protect ourselves, our families, and our community,” he said. Those words came on March 17, 2020. Major casinos were ahead of the governor, with shutdowns already in place at MGM Resorts International’s properties, The Venetian and Palazzo and Wynn Las Vegas.

Images of the empty Las Vegas Strip are still a stark reminder. And time hasn’t dulled the strong opinions on both sides of the COVID-19 pandemic. How could it? Has there been anything so personal to so many people?

Las Vegas Strip empty in 2020 following the COVID-19 shutdown (KLAS)

Lives were lost and families were devastated by the virus, which has claimed 12,260 Nevadans through March 9, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Through the course of the pandemic, 78% of Nevada’s deaths involving COVID-19 were in Southern Nevada — so more than 9,560 of the state’s total. Nationwide, the toll has reached 1,184,376. The vast majority of those deaths came in the first two years.

And if it wasn’t the death of a loved one or a friend, the virus touched people in other ways: lost jobs and income, interrupted social development for children and teens, and disrupted lives. We lost our normal.

Sure, there were the face masks, the toilet paper shortages and the temporary end to haircuts and dining out — a list of a hundred things. Some were the same for everyone — the common experience of riding it out, waiting for things to get back to normal. There’s that word again.

Las Vegas Strip empty in 2020 following the COVID-19 shutdown (KLAS)

But Las Vegas has always had a story to tell that’s just a little different.

Casino business came back strong, a surge that started as an outlet for “pent-up demand” for gamblers and people who were just sick of social distancing. Now it’s something different.

Celebrations under the Fremont Street Experience canopy as casinos reopen at 12:01 a.m. on June 4, 2020. (KLAS)

Prosperity has returned to the Las Vegas Strip, with record-shattering numbers coming from casinos, hotels — just about every part of resorts’ business. It shows no signs of slowing down. Convention business and international travel could inject even more as they return.

Resort companies shed workers, putting an end to any part of the business that wasn’t turning a healthy profit. The result: record profits, happy investors, and a lot of jobs that will never come back. For those families, it’s not a storybook ending.

Four years ago, the shutdown began and Nevada’s unemployment rate skyrocketed, reaching 33.4% at its worst. That rate is now 5.3%. At first glance, that might seem like a victory.

Nevada has had the worst unemployment rate in the nation for a year and a half.

FILE – In this March 16, 2020, file photo, a couple ride the escalator outside The MGM Grand hotel-casino in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Jobs have gradually returned in the leisure and hospitality sector of the Las Vegas economy, but it took a very long time to happen. Resort openings at Durango Casino & Resort and Fontainebleau Las Vegas helped.

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