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VICTOR JOECKS: George Floyd protests expose Sisolak’s hypocrisy on social distancing

Updated June 4, 2020 - 9:27 pm

Apparently, thousands of people coming together and chanting is the key to slowing the spread of coronavirus. That’s the impression left by Gov. Steve Sisolak’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter protesters who are violating his social-distancing mandate.

Last week, Gov. Steve Sisolak unveiled Phase Two of Nevada’s response to the coronavirus. It included reopening more businesses, including gyms, bars, indoor malls and movie theaters. He maintained the ban, however, on large group gatherings, including churches.

“Public and private gatherings are limited to 50 or fewer people at a given time,” the Phase Two guidance read. “Face coverings should be worn by all individuals.”

Throughout the pandemic, Sisolak has repeatedly imposed extremely harsh restrictions on Nevadans. In March, he closed schools and numerous businesses, including casinos. In April, he shut down golf courses and places of worship, even drive-up services where congregants stayed in their cars.

These measures have devastated Nevada’s economy. At 33.5 percent in April, the Las Vegas metro area had the highest unemployment rate among major U.S. metro areas. It wasn’t even close. Detroit was the next highest at 24.4 percent.

On top of record unemployment, the unemployment insurance system has failed thousands of Nevadans. The frustration and futility people have experienced while trying to have their phone calls answered is heartbreaking.

The job losses and money struggles are only the tip of the iceberg. There’s no way to measure the pain and injury caused by the isolation or by people avoiding the emergency room or discontinuing medical treatment. The educational disruption low-income students experienced could have lifelong consequences.

Sisolak acknowledged this pain, but he insisted that draconian measures were all that was standing between Nevada and a coronavirus apocalypse.

“We are living in unique times,” Sisolak tweeted in April. “The science tells us that putting large numbers of people close together during a pandemic for any reason — religious, cultural, economic or recreational — is an invitation for a disease to do its worst. We must stay home for Nevada.”

Then came the horrific killing of George Floyd. In Las Vegas and in many places around the country, thousands of people gathered to protest. To say the marches and occasional riots in Las Vegas and Reno violated social distancing and mask advice is putting it mildly. But rather than stop or criticize these demonstrations over the health dangers, Sisolak encouraged them.

“I urge all Nevadans to listen to your fellow community members who are peacefully protesting systemic racism and injustice tonight,” he tweeted Sunday. On Wednesday, he even issued a statement of support for legal observers giving protesters advice during the rallies.

You can’t have it both ways. Either Sisolak misled Nevadans about the continued necessity of lockdowns — while destroying the state’s economy to boot — or he’s hypocritically allowing large gatherings when he approves of the cause.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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