Tuesday, March 24, 2020 | 2 a.m.
When Gov. Steve Sisolak issued his stepped-up order Friday mandating the closure of all nonessential businesses in Nevada, the city of North Las Vegas was prepared to jump in to help.
The city rolled out a multipronged plan that included sending emails to businesses Friday and Saturday to notify them about the order, followed by robocalls to the businesses starting Saturday, followed by phone calls from city staffers starting Monday. The next step involved various officials — code enforcement staffers, fire inspectors, parking enforcement officers, etc. — being readied to visit businesses on an as-needed basis this week. And as a final measure, North Las Vegas Police Department would make follow-up visits as necessary.
That’s government done right. City leaders anticipated the order, recognized the need for it and crafted a proactive and common-sense set of steps to encourage compliance. The commendable work of the city’s leadership — Mayor John Lee, the city council and City Manager Ryann Juden among them — benefits North Las Vegas and all of Nevada as we fight this deadly outbreak.
But unfortunately, not all local leaders acted so responsibly. That’s particularly the case in the city of Las Vegas, where Mayor Carolyn Goodman and city attorney Brad Jerbic have been examples of how not to lead in a crisis.
Goodman and Jerbic offered comments that weren’t just irresponsible, they were dangerous. The two downplayed the dangers of the disease while also criticizing Sisolak’s order.
This directly contradicted information from health care experts about the nature of the pathogen, the level of the threat it poses and the actions that are needed to contend with it.
COVID-19 is a fast-moving illness that kills at a far greater rate than the common flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 1.7 million Americans could die from the disease, while new research from the Imperial College of London suggests there could be 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. and that suppression of the virus could take 18 months or more. According to recent media reports, the Imperial College study finally woke up President Donald Trump to the dangers posed by the outbreak, prompting him to switch his tone on the subject last week and start taking the threat more seriously.
Goodman and Jerbic didn’t follow Trump’s lead, unfortunately.
Instead, Goodman got snarky during Wednesday’s city council meeting, comparing the outbreak to the swine flu and Ebola.
“Believe it or not, we’re still here,” she said.
Goodman further pressed Sisolak to reduce the 30-day closure period to as little as eight days, which completely flies in the face of advice from medical experts. Put it this way: Under her timeline, the closures would end this Thursday. Does anyone in their right mind believe we’ll have turned the corner on the outbreak by then?
Jerbic echoed Goodman’s sentiments last week, then followed up this past weekend by announcing that the city attorney’s office wouldn’t help enforce the order due to supposed ambiguity in the definition of a nonessential business. (The city clarified Monday that the city attorney’s office would enforce the order, either by taking criminal action under the state’s public nuisance statute or civil action by securing a temporary restraining order. At the same time, city officials are planning to adopt several ways to ease burdens on businesses that are forced to close, including reduced fees for some licenses.)
The sentiments expressed by Goodman and Jerbic only serve to embolden people who are misinformed about the pandemic and aren’t inclined to take the necessary steps to inhibit its spread — self-isolating, frequent hand-washing and so forth.
The virus is going to badly hurt the Las Vegas economy, no doubt, and has already created economic hardship and uncertainty for families across the state. But the alternative to closures and self-isolating is to risk a nightmarish scenario in which COVID-19 spreads rapidly, swamping our hospitals with coronavirus patients.
The leaders of North Las Vegas understood that. Goodman and Jerbic, to their discredit, channeled the extreme right wing’s conspiratorial messaging that the response to the virus is overblown and is doing unnecessary damage to the economy.
Those two need to change their tune on the subject. Neither is a public health expert; they should start listening to those professionals and heeding their advice.
In countries around the world, it’s been proven that limiting population movement, imposing restrictions on sizes of public gatherings, self-isolation and similar steps work in suppressing the spread of the disease.
They’ll work here too. Going through this time will be difficult economically, no question, but it’s the best thing to do for the health of our family, our friends and our neighbors.
Editor's note: On Tuesday afternoon, Goodman issued the following statement by video:
As you are all so painfully aware, we’re dealing with a situation that has changed and interrupted our daily lives. I want you to know that public safety remains the top priority. The city of Las Vegas is working to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
I would like to ask everyone to follow precautions that have been put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and the Southern Nevada Health District so we can stop this virus. We’ve put together a comprehensive list of resources to help individuals and businesses. It’s on the city website at www.lasvegasnevasda.gov, or you can call 702 229-2273.
We all want to return to our normal lives, and if we all come together I have no doubt we can beat this. Las Vegas is a unique and special place, and it will soon be shining brighter than ever before.