It’s a moment in which Las Vegas in particular is struggling. While not everyone in the city is dependent on the casinos and entertainment venues for employment, many of its residents are — meaning there’s significant pressure on Mayor Carolyn Goodman (I) to get the economy back into gear.
I appreciate that this is a complicated moment for Goodman. Because everything that follows will offer a less generous assessment of Goodman’s view of the situation.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, Goodman said:
- “Competition” and “free enterprise” would force businesses to limit the spread of the virus on premises.
- It’s people’s own responsibility to know when they’re sick.
- A death toll of 150 people in Clark County was so low, relative to the population, that “we have to open up” the city’s businesses.
- Cooper was being an “alarmist” by suggesting people sitting in a casino together would spread the virus.
These are uniformly bad arguments.
Let’s begin by noting where Clark County sits at the moment. Data from Johns Hopkins University indicate there are about 3,100 confirmed cases in the county, which is home to about 2.3 million people. That’s about 137 cases for every 100,000 residents. There have been about 6.2 deaths from covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, for every 100,000 county residents — 141 deaths in total.
What’s important to note is since the implementation of the statewide stay-at-home order on April 1, the number of new confirmed cases has trended downward. In the week before April 1, there were 657 new cases. In the week after April 1, that rose to 917 — not unexpected, since new infections take several days to manifest symptoms and, therefore, to prompt tests. In the most recent seven-day period, the county has added only 590 new cases.
In other words, the evidence suggests the stay-at-home order is doing what it is meant to do: limit new infections and, therefore, deaths. Goodman’s argument that the low number of deaths suggests the stay-at-home order should be lifted is precisely backward. It instead indicates the stay-at-home order is working.
Remember both of these figures are probably too low. The number of cases in particular is almost certainly wrong, in part because it’s generally people with symptoms who end up being tested for the virus and confirmed to have it. As we’ve reported, 1-in-4 people who contract the virus don’t show symptoms — but nonetheless are able to transmit it.
“It’s a responsibility of each one of us as a human being and part of the civilized world to know when we’re sick,” Goodman told Cooper. “We don’t do bad things to people at all, ever.”
Well, sure — if you know you’re sick. When you’re asymptomatic you don’t show symptoms. If you don’t show symptoms, how are you supposed to be a good citizen of the civilized world and remove yourself from the public? That’s a central part of why the new coronavirus is so dangerous and why government officials at every level are scrambling to figure out effective containment and tracing measures.
Could casinos move slot machines six feet apart to accommodate distancing measures? Sure. But have you been to a casino? Have you been to Vegas? The mayor’s suggestion is that entertainment and retail venues in the city should police the behavior of visitors, in keeping with the city’s motto: “What happens in Vegas is that people behave responsibly and follow the guidance of authority figures.” I’m sure college kids who’ve had a few drinks will wait patiently in well-spaced-out lines to gain entry to the sports book. It’s what Vegas is all about!
Goodman’s idea that businesses in which the virus is spread would somehow suffer by losing customers is simply bizarre. Again, the virus can take days or weeks to manifest symptoms, if symptoms appear at all. Is a visitor to a casino or a show going to know, six days later, it was that casino or that theater that led to his infection? Once he’s back in Biloxi, what’s he going to do? Add a negative Yelp review? “I think maybe I got coronavirus here, one star."
Cooper made a similar point about the culture of the city.
“You’re encouraging, I mean, hundreds of thousands of people coming there, in casinos, smoking, drinking, touching slot machines, breathing circulated air,” he said, “and then returning home to states around America and countries around the world. Doesn’t that sound like a virus petri dish?”
“You know what it sounds like: you’re being an alarmist,” she said. “I’m not.”
Cooper is being an alarmist if you mean it in the sense of sounding an alarm. And deservedly. It’s not only tourists who would be at risk, of course. The employees of the facilities would be asked to decide if their health would be protected as their employers balanced distancing with earnings.
Goodman’s nonchalance about the risk she was posing to her constituents was embodied in an offer she said she’d made to health authorities.
“We offered to be a control group,” she said, establishing Vegas as a study in how social-distancing could be scaled back. “I was told by our statistician,” she added, “you can’t do that because people from all parts of southern Nevada come in to work in the city.” This, she said, was too bad.
“I know that when you have a disease, you have a placebo that gets the water and the sugar,” she said, describing the process for a controlled drug trial. “And then you get those that actually get the shot. We would love to be that placebo side. Have something to measure against.”
“The group that gets the placebo, by the way, usually gets the short end of the stick,” Cooper pointed out — since the placebo isn’t the real medicine.
“I’d love everything open,” Goodman said at another point, “because I think we’ve had viruses for years that have been here.”
This is entirely the point. There have been viruses in Vegas for years — but not this virus. There’s no vaccine and no immunity among the public. That’s why we’re taking such unusual measures to contain it, precisely because it isn’t one of the viruses that have been here for years.
The problem with Goodman’s plan is that what happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas, and people there and elsewhere in the country will die of covid-19.