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VICTOR JOECKS: Sisolak’s hypocrisy undermines his mask mandate

Updated June 27, 2020 - 9:20 pm

It would be easier to take Gov. Steve Sisolak’s mask mandate seriously if he hadn’t spent the last month flattering protesters who violated the limits he imposed on group gatherings.

As of Friday, Sisolak now requires Nevadans to wear a mask when they go out in public. He previously mandated it for employees who interacted with the public. Sisolak justified this step based on a sharp increase in the percentage of Nevadans testing positive.

It’s important to dig into this point. An increase in the raw number of positive cases isn’t as concerning if it’s the result of an increase in testing. Nevada went from averaging 1,000 tests daily in April to 4,600 tests daily in June. The key measure is the percentage of positive tests.

From mid-May to mid-June, Nevada’s positivity rate looked good. It was usually under 5 percent. For comparison, a typical day in early April was around 13 percent. Unfortunately, that has changed over the past week. From June 18 to June 24, the average positivity rate jumped to 10 percent, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

Confirmed coronavirus hospitalizations have crept up to levels last seen in early May. The potential silver lining is that deaths in June have been at their lowest levels since the end of March. Deaths are a lagging indicator, but it’s possible that most of the new cases are in younger people who are at lower risk. Around the country, 18 to 49 year olds have the highest rate of new coronavirus cases.

Sisolak is right to be concerned. Unfortunately, he and many other public health experts spent the last month shredding their credibility.

Since the end of May, crowds of hundreds and even thousands have gathered throughout Nevada to protest the death of George Floyd. Those protests, however noble their purpose, violate the 50-person limit Sisolak imposed on group size. Rather than discourage these crowds for their risky behavior, Sisolak praised them.

“To the protesters, we hear you and we are listening,” Sisolak tweeted on May 30. He added, “We respect and defend your right to protest, but please express yourselves peacefully.” Last Friday, he even mingled with a smaller crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters in Carson City. In contrast, Sisolak offered no such encouragement for those who rallied in support of reopening Nevada.

The message was unmistakable. If Sisolak agrees with you politically, you have a free pass to ignore the restrictions he claims are so important to stop coronavirus.

Others in the medical field were more explicit in their belief that some protests are more equal than others.

“As public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings (against racism) as risky for COVID-19 transmission,” an open letter signed by more than 1,200 health professionals read. The letter continued, “This should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-home orders.”

It gets worse. For months, Sisolak has urged Nevadans to wear masks when in public. Earlier this month, however, he took a photo at a restaurant while not wearing a mask. He acknowledged this at his news conference and called it “an error in judgment.”

Sisolak’s political and personal hypocrisy doesn’t mean he’s wrong about the importance of wearing masks. But if he wonders why many Nevadans have tuned out his pleas, he should remember that actions speak louder than words.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 3 p.m. with Kevin Wall on AM 670 KMZQ Right Talk. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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