King Steve Sisolak is acting more like Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman than California Gov. Gavin Newsom when it comes to coronavirus. What a relief.
Nevada’s coronavirus cases are increasing. In mid-September, Nevada’s test positivity rate dropped to 6.5 percent. On Monday, it was 9.8 percent. The raw numbers of new daily cases have nearly doubled. In mid-September, it was a bit more than 300 a day. Now, it’s near 600 a day. All numbers are 14-day averages from the state’s website.
Given the governor’s record, you would expect him to issue a long list of royal edicts shutting Nevada down again. This is the guy who once banned drive-up church services.
To his credit, however, King Sisolak isn’t repeating his past mistakes. He’s taking steps to reopen Nevada further despite the rise in cases. On Monday, he announced that the state is working on plans to allow conventions at 50 percent capacity by Jan. 1. He also said he was working with education officials to reopen schools.
Bravo to both moves.
The coronavirus, combined with King Sisolak’s unnecessary summer restrictions, has devastated Las Vegas’ economy. In September, its unemployment rate was 14.8 percent. For comparison, Las Vegas’ unemployment rate during the Great Recession peaked at 14.1 percent. Compared with last year, leisure and hospitality employment is down 25 percent, a loss of 73,900 jobs.
The tourist market has rebounded as well as could be hoped. But the convention market went dormant for months. Last month, the governor attempted to address this by allowing conventions of up to 1,000 people. It was a start.
Allowing conventions at 50 percent capacity is a giant improvement — and not a moment too soon. As King Sisolak noted, convention planners need several months to organize these events. His actions now give Las Vegas a shot to host larger conventions in the first quarter of 2021.
It’s hard to understate what a reversal this is. In April, King Sisolak went on CNN to mock Goodman for suggesting the city reopen: “I’m not going to allow our workers to be put in position where they have to decide between their job — their paycheck — and their life.”
Today, he’s basically adopted her plan despite the current increase in virus cases. Don’t expect a royal apology.
The mistake King Sisolak made this spring was that he didn’t give people the freedom to make their own choices. When he said he wouldn’t let people choose between their paycheck and their life, he meant it. He made the decision to take paychecks away from hundreds of thousands of Nevadans by keeping the state shut down. He never mentioned that unemployment creates its own host of health problems, including increased mortality. Coronavirus cases surged this summer anyway.
It was never his decision to make. Nevada’s 3 million residents are different. Different ages, different health factors. Different priorities. Different outcomes if they get the virus.
For instance, 21.5 percent of Nevada’s positive coronavirus tests are from those in their 20s. That group, however, accounts for just 0.6 percent of the state’s deaths, or 10 deaths out of 1,733 total. Those 70 and older have had 6.4 percent of Nevada’s confirmed coronavirus cases but 61.5 percent of deaths. That’s 1,066 deaths out of 1,733. Numbers are from the state’s website and are current as of Tuesday afternoon.
Children are at even lower risk. Those under 20 make up 13.1 percent of positive cases but just 0.2 percent of deaths, or three out of 1,733. That’s why Sisolak is right to push the Clark County School District to reopen. Seven months of learning loss will likely doom tens of thousands of low-income children to a lifetime of reduced opportunity. Every day of distance learning prolongs the damage. The district can and should still offer an online option for families who prefer distance learning.
After months of heavy-handed mandates, it’s good to see King Sisolak act like a governor again.