Updated March 18, 2020 - 5:56 pm
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman on Wednesday issued an urgent plea to Gov. Steve Sisolak, requesting he significantly shorten a 30-day closure of nonessential businesses in order to protect workers and avoid a chilling effect on the state’s recovery for several years to come.
Goodman, taking the unusual step of speaking to the council from the public comment podium, warned of “untenable hardships” if employees who rely on the city’s tourist industry for income were not able to return to work sooner.
“I know we, and they, cannot survive any total shutdown of the economy for any length of time beyond the immediate week or two,” she said, pointing to the hospitality industry and mom-and-pop shops in particular. “Thus, my full efforts will be focused on keeping as many of our people as possible employed and asking the governor to shorten the projected shutdown.”
“Please, governor, we need to be able to live our lives, support our families and, yes, keep Nevada strong, but together,” she said later. “But we can’t do that if we are continuously housebound, unable to work for such a lengthy time period.”
Goodman, arguably the most prominent local elected official in the state, has also been by far the most resistant to drastic measures undertaken by states and cities across the country to slow the spread of COVID-19 amid a global pandemic.
On Monday, a day before Sisolak requested that casinos, bars, restaurants and other “nonessential” businesses shut down for a month, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve offered the same direction to business in her city. At the time, Goodman said she hoped Sisolak would not issue a mandate, fearful of its “devastating” effect on workers and businesses.
The governor’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story.
Goodman instead called for an eight- to 10-day period of closures, which she suggested after rattling off data about the novel coronavirus she attributed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: an incubation period between two and 14 days; most contagious beginning a day before symptoms show; and transmissible until about eight days thereafter.
The mayor’s thinking did not account for data from the World Health Organization and other experts that shows 4 out of 5 infected people will have mild or no symptoms.
“The Southern Nevada Health District is in support of the actions Governor Sisolak has taken to protect our community,” district spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said in an email when asked to verify the mayor’s comments.
Goodman agreed that people must self-isolate before and during the onset of the virus and until the contagious period was over, and she said the city has adhered to guidelines issued by the state prior to nonessential business closures: reducing public gathering places by 50 percent of capacity; people keeping 6 feet of distance from another; and isolating when appropriate.
Power to the people
But it has always been her intent for businesses to remain open even with the understanding that there may be certain restrictions. The issue ultimately whittles down to affording people the right to “make their own choices, create and follow their own destinies,” she said, and that includes earning a living and providing for their families.
She also underscored that in the past 20 years, diseases such as West Nile virus, SARS, bird flu, swine flu, Ebola virus and the ordinary flu have not spurred broad business shutdowns.
“And believe it or not we’re still here,” she said. “Any full-out shutdown will cripple the state’s recovery, not only for now but for several years to come.”
For Goodman, the focus is on Nevadans whose jobs depend on the tourist industry and the 42 million visitors to Las Vegas each year. She has continued to call for precaution, but not nearly to the extent that the governor has, even as she acknowledged that she was part of the vulnerable population most affected by the virus.
“As an example of the elderly, I am that person,” said Goodman, who last year completed chemotherapy for stage 2 breast cancer. “I’m 80 years old and, beyond that, have a compromised health system.”
Still, the mayor insisted, as she has said before, that she has “more energy than a pack of wolves” and “can get through this” with the support of the city and its residents.
But Sisolak, at a Tuesday news conference announcing the closures, said it was about saving people’s lives.
“I know there will be some who will disagree with my decision, some who will think this is an overreaction,” Sisolak said. “I want you to know I’ve spent countless hours working with medical experts, the White House, the CDC, labor and industry leaders, and I fully believe that this is an appropriate and informed reaction.”
He added later: “I ask you, what are you willing to do to save your own life and the lives of those you love? We absolutely must take this step for every Nevadan’s health and safety. Please, please take this seriously. Lives are at stake and each day passing this pandemic is growing.”