This should be the easy part.
Six months after launching into an admittedly evolving effort to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus that to date has taken the lives of more than 1,200 Nevadans and 188,000 Americans, the idea that we’re all in this together seems like a pretty basic concept.
Setting aside the blame for the slow response to the outbreak, and the fact that governors from 50 states were asked to come up with their own plans even as carriers of COVID-19 were crossing state lines and flying from coast to coast, at some level the only reasonable way to combat the virus is to work as a community with the common goal of staying safe and being a good neighbor.
Makes sense, right?
After watching Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick address Wednesday’s Las Vegas City Council meeting and stress the importance of a unified, regional approach to enforcing safe practices, I came away convinced that not everyone is on the same page. Or maybe on the same planet.
Once again, Mayor Carolyn Goodman was effusive in her praise of Kirkpatrick’s effort, but failed to wholeheartedly endorse her recommendation. Her contempt for the occupant of the governor’s office remains evident. She’s called the closure of nonessential businesses “total insanity” and suggested on national television to reopen Las Vegas and use her constituents as a “control group” to see if the virus was all it’s cracked up to be.
And once again, Councilwoman Michele Fiore insisted on spouting the debunked and dangerous theory that the number of COVID-19 deaths is far lower than reported because the vast majority of victims also had substantial underlying health problems. She said just 6 percent of total deaths were actually from the disease. In her view, the virus merely finished off the others who were on their way out anyway.
Talk about being raised by wolves. Doctor Fiore really needs to work on her bedside manner.
At her next “Blue Lives Matter” rally, perhaps someone will remind Fiore that COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death of active-duty police officers in this country, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and the Officer Down Memorial Page. Healthy emergency first responders across the country are dying of COVID-19.
Not surprisingly, Fiore’s Trumpian talking points are part of the counter-narrative being chanted throughout the Republican Party as it scrambles to come up with an excuse for the president’s flat-footed and fatal response to the pandemic. Instead of leading the way in a united response, we lead the world in COVID-19 deaths. But never mind that.
Nevada is in real trouble that transcends petty politics. No place is in a more challenging predicament than Las Vegas, which exists because of millions of visitors perennially drawn from outside the state.
“The one thing that I’m asking all cities to do is for us to work collaboratively on a comprehensive business enforcement plan, because it is all over the board across the valley, and it’s all over the board as to whose authority is what,” Kirkpatrick said.
She pointed to a recent party with 300 in attendance at 1401 S. Main Street, a stone’s throw from City Hall, with no social distancing and no enforcement and reminded the council that failing to quickly react only encourages the spread of the virus. “So that’s why we’re asking for a comprehensive plan for everybody,” Kirkpatrick said.
The plainspoken Kirkpatrick’s plea came after she immersed herself in the complex policy and medical issues related to the pandemic and Nevada’s response to it. The state and county health systems along with the Clark County Fire Department are working nonstop to keep Nevada from blowing up into an uncontrollable COVID-19 wildfire. She had allies on the council in Cedric Crear, Brian Knudsen and Olivia Diaz, who went out of their way to support the plan Kirkpatrick promoted with Fire Chief John Steinbeck at her side.
But success depends on a consistent, unified response to the pandemic and strict enforcement against the bad actors that flout even the simplest rules and best practices. Nevada is one of just 11 states with a positivity rate above 10 percent. “Our numbers are getting better,” Gov. Steve Sisolak cautioned on twitter, “but in our high-risk counties, we still have work to do.”
He was being kind.
Those who fantasize about reopening Las Vegas without substantial changes in behavior are kidding themselves and endangering their fellow citizens. Apparently not everyone gets that. But our positivity rate, at more than 12 percent, is still so high that 17 states and the District of Columbia have placed quarantine restrictions on Nevadans who travel to those jurisdictions.
Sisolak obviously knows the message isn’t getting through to every elected official. In his weekly press update he noted, “We can disagree — that’s okay. I expect local leaders to advocate for their local communities — that’s their job. As governor, I’ve done everything I can to focus on our statewide response and consider the consequences of our decisions now and into the future.”
That’s not enough.
There’s obviously a disconnect between elected leaders at the state and the city of Las Vegas. Failing to put aside differences and work together becomes a failure on all sides.
At one point Kirkpatrick, sounding more than a little like a peacemaker, shrugged and said, “We’re not trying to do winners and losers.”
If we don’t work together better, we’ll all end up losers.
John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith