LAS VEGAS – Despite advice of public health officials to keep businesses closed to fight the spread of COVID-19, Mayor Carolyn Goodman wants Sin City reopened as soon as possible.
Her "open now, ask questions later" philosophy has led to national television interviews and drawn attacks from critics contending it's too soon to end the shutdown.
"We are a hospitality state. We depend on service to the customers," Goodman told the USA TODAY Network in an interview Wednesday. "I'm not talking about gaming. I'm talking about people who are out of work. We closed down with no plan of how to reopen, and that has been my plea from the beginning to the governor: Have a plan."
On Tuesday, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said he didn’t have a firm date when businesses can expect to reopen – a process depending on the state’s progress in virus testing and containment criteria set by state and federal health experts.
So far, Nevada has more than 4,000 positive tests for COVID-19 and 172 deaths – figures Sisolak said on Tuesday would likely be far higher had Nevadans not stayed home and practiced social distancing when the outbreak started here in early March.
As mayor, Goodman has no power or jurisdiction over the Las Vegas Strip, which lies outside city limits in Clark County.
The time to reopen should be now to get the unemployed back to work, Goodman said.
"These people now who are lost, who are out of work, they don't have anyone to pay their rent, their mortgage, or even buy groceries," the mayor said. "They call all the time, 'I need a job, I need to earn money.'"
'Assume everybody is a carrier'
In an interview with MSNBC host Katy Tur, Goodman explained how reopening businesses could work in Nevada.
“Assume everybody is a carrier," Goodman said. "And then you start from an even slate and tell the people what to do. And let the businesses open and competition will destroy that business if – in fact – (it becomes evident) that they have disease, they’re closed down. It’s that simple.”
To the Las Vegas mayor, it should be the choice of the individual whether they enter a restaurant or casino or hotel.
"It's up to us as individuals to make the choice," Goodman said. "Do I want to stay home and quarantine and not go out?"
Comments spark backlash
Annette Magnus, executive director of Battle Born Progress, said reopening too soon would endanger casino workers' lives and called Goodman’s statements “not only foolish and ignorant but insulting to the working families who drive Nevada’s economy.”
“In spite of having no jurisdiction over the casinos comprising the Las Vegas Strip, she suggested sacrificing the health and lives of casino workers as a demented experiment to test the veracity of the disease,” Magnus said.
Elected officials and celebrities also chimed in, with Las Vegas' Ward 1 Councilman Brian Knudsen taking to Twitter on Wednesday to condemn the mayor's stance.
"We all want Las Vegas to reopen," he said, "but I strongly disagree with Mayor Goodman's comments today."
Responding to Goodman's interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper – in which she reiterated calls to reopen and called the host an "alarmist" – Las Vegas native and late night talk show celebrity Jimmy Kimmel called for Goodman to step down.
Sisolak, asked last week if he had any rebuttal to Goodman's statement calling the closure "insanity," said at a news briefing that, "I heard some of the comments. I’m not going to respond to those comments or attacks on me."
Most Americans disagree with Goodman
A survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that majority of Americans say it won’t be safe to lift social distancing guidelines anytime soon, running counter to the choice of a handful of governors who have announced plans to ease within days the public health efforts that have upended daily life and roiled the global economy.
The country largely believes restrictions on social interaction to curb the spread of the virus are appropriate.
Only 12% of Americans say the measures where they live go too far. About twice as many people, 26%, believe the limits don’t go far enough.
About 8 in 10 Americans say they support measures that include requiring Americans to stay in their homes and limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer – numbers that have largely held steady over the past few weeks.
Trump 'OK' with Vegas shutdown
After Goodman called the shutdown "total insanity," President Donald Trump said he's "OK" with Nevada's closure of nonessential businesses, which has shuttered Las Vegas casinos.
Speaking at Sunday's daily White House briefing, Trump gave qualified support to Sisolak's closure amid the coronavirus pandemic, even though the move has shut his own Trump International Hotel Las Vegas.
"They closed a big hotel down in Nevada that I have in Las Vegas. It’s a very severe step he took. I’m OK with it," Trump said. "But you could call that one either way."
The known number of Nevadans with COVID-19 crested 4,000 on Wednesday, reaching a high of 4,081 cases statewide, according to the Nevada Health Alliance. The number of deaths from the virus hit 172.
Despite the escalating numbers, Goodman has remained focused on reopening.
"This shutdown has become one of total insanity, in my opinion," Goodman said last week, adding, "There is no backup of data as to why we are shut down from the start, no plan in place how to move through the shutdown or how even to come out of it."
Trump was asked point-blank whether he supported the governor or the mayor's opposing viewpoint on Las Vegas' closure as a public safety measure. Trump said he was staying out of the decision.
"I’m not involved with that. I could be if I wanted to," he said. "I know the mayor is very upset with it. Some (hotel and casino) owners are very upset with it. Some of the developers out there are upset. Others say, ‘Hey, we have to get rid of it.’ I can see both sides of that."
Follow Ed Komenda on Twitter: @ejkomenda. Contributing: Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY, Associated Press.