Las Vegas mayor’s proposed ‘gamble’ for reopening economy denounced by county commissioner

By BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC News

(LAS VEGAS) — Saying that Las Vegas casinos, hotels and businesses will only reopen when scientific data says it’s no longer a gamble with people’s lives, a member of the county commission that regulates the city’s famed Strip blasted Mayor Carolyn Goodman’s widely-panned proposal to use employees as a “control group” to test whether starting up the economy amidst the coronavirus pandemic is safe.

Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said in an interview Monday on ABC’s “Pandemic: What You Need to Know” that it was disappointing to hear Goodman promote her idea on national television despite most medical professionals agreeing that such a move could drastically set the city back in its battle against the invisible contagion.

Kirkpatrick, the former speaker of the Nevada Assembly, responded to Goodman’s public admission that she had recommended the Las Vegas workforce serve as a test group to determine whether stay-at-home orders really work in combating the coronavirus.

“I don’t agree with her,” Kirkpatrick said. “My colleagues and I who oversee the beautiful Las Vegas Strip feel that our highest priority needs to be the health and safety of not only our residents who work on the Strip but the visitors who come to visit us.”

Kirkpatrick called for Las Vegas residents to be patient, saying that prematurely reopening businesses could create a new wave of positive cases and prompt authorities to shut down the economy again.

“We will open only when it’s safe and we have the most stringent priorities and policies in place,” said Kirkpatrick, who is also vice chair of the Southern Nevada Health District Board.

Goodman prompted a backlash from Nevada’s governor and labor unions by telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper last week that she had floated the idea of Las Vegas’ workers becoming a “control group” in an experiment to determine the effectiveness of social distancing measures. As of Monday, more than 4,600 people in Nevada had been infected with coronavirus and 206 had died.

“How do you know until you’ve had a control group?” Goodman said when asked if she thought stay-at-home orders have worked to blunt the spread of the virus. “I offered to be a control group, and I was told by our statistician that you can’t do that because people from all parts of Southern Nevada come in to work in the city. And I said, ‘Oh, that’s too bad because I know that when you have a disease, you have a placebo that gets them water and the sugar, and then you get those that actually get the shot. We would love to be that placebo side so you have something to measure against.'”

In subsequent interviews, Goodman’s doubled down on calls to put people back to work, telling MSNBC, “Let the businesses open, and competition will destroy that business if, in fact, they become evident that they have the disease.” She also told ABC Las Vegas affiliate KTNV-TV, that “in my opinion, you have to go ahead” and open the economy, adding, “Every day you get up, it’s a gamble.”

Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union Local 226, released a statement condemning the mayor’s comments, saying, “Workplaces need to be safe and healthy — not a petri dish.”

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak added that he will not allow the citizens of Nevada “to be used as a control group, as a placebo, whatever she wants to call it.”

Sisolak imposed Nevada’s stay-at-home directives on March 20, ordering all non-essential businesses to close and residents to practice social distancing and good hygiene to fight the virus, formally known as COVID-19.

Goodman has no authority over the major casinos, hotels and businesses on the Las Vegas Strip and areas south of downtown which are under the jurisdiction of the Clark County Commission. The mayor only has a say in what happens to casinos and businesses in downtown Las Vegas.

Kirkpatrick said on Monday that health officials in her state believe testing is “key to getting us back open” and have made ramping up testing for the disease a top priority.

“Today we can do up to 2,000 tests a day. We anticipate by June 1 being able to do 10,000 tests,” Kirkpatrick said. “Out hotel partners and our airport, they’re making some adjustments so that our visitors feel very safe coming back. We’ll invite everybody back when we feel we can meet those needs.”

She praised Las Vegas residents for “doing a great” job at practicing social distancing.

“I’m very proud of what we’re doing in our community on the social distancing piece,” Kirkpatrick said.

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