Gov. Sisolak is running out of both patience and time.
That was the impression I got after watching the press conference on Wednesday in which, among other things, he announced that we are now legally required to wear masks in public — but only on paper! Let’s not issue fines or arrest anyone! This is just some paperwork we’re filling out so casino workers can tell tourists to wear a mask! We’re not even going to obligate law enforcement to wear masks, lest they opine in the governor’s direction once again!
(Surprise — they opined anyway.)
What Gov. Sisolak wants is pretty straightforward — he wants casinos to remain open so the state won’t actually have to cut a quarter of its annual budget. What he doesn’t want to do is communicate with Republicans in the Legislature, state employee unions or anyone else about budget cuts. Instead, he wants the need for budget cuts to disappear. That’s why both Sen. Kieckhefer and AFSCME, who ordinarily refuse to agree with each other about the wetness of water and which way is up, have both complained for months about the lack of communication and collaboration from the governor’s office regarding the state’s budgeting process.
In order for Nevada’s budget woes to disappear, or at least shrink into a somewhat more manageable size, casinos need to remain open. In order for casinos to remain open, people need to trust they won’t get deathly ill if they visit one. Unfortunately, positive cases are going up, both in Nevada and across the rest of the country, which is causing tourists to stay home. Though COVID-19 isn’t as virulently lethal as the Black Death, the Columbian exchange, or even the Spanish Flu, it’s already killed nearly as many Americans in four months as Alzheimer’s normally kills in a year, which means it’s likely to be the United States’ sixth-leading cause of death within the next few weeks and the third-leading cause within the next few months. Understandably, most people don’t want to catch the third- or sixth-leading cause of death if they can generally avoid it.
Worse yet, many states are once again issuing tit-for-tat quarantines and travel bans. The last thing Nevada needs is to find itself in the same 14-day quarantine bucket New York, New Jersey and Connecticut placed Arizona and Utah, two of our five neighboring states, into.
The good news is Nevada could be doing a lot worse. It’s not very often that Nevada earns a pat on the back for institutional success, but Nevada’s medical system is doing consistently competent work at a time when other, larger states are failing. Yes, our case count is growing faster than ever, but hospitalization, ventilator, and ICU utilization rates are still well under their early April peaks and our overall death rate is still declining. This is consistent with COVID-19 infecting younger, healthier populations, as well as our medical infrastructure getting better at treating a decreasingly novel virus. As the Governor’s Office of Economic Development puts together its latest slide deck selling businesses on Nevada, it might be worth pointing out that, unlike Texas and Florida, two ostensibly business-friendly locations that also don’t have personal income taxes, Nevada’s hospitals aren’t full.
As good as that news might be, however, Nevada’s population isn’t just Nevadans.
Ordinarily, more than 56 million people visit Nevada each year — or roughly the population of California if California had another 16 million people in it. Those 56 million people and change (or however many might show up these days) eventually go home once they’re done doing whatever it is visitors do here. If they want to be welcomed back home without sheltering-in-place for a couple of weeks when they return, though, their home states and countries need to know that what happens in Vegas isn’t contagious. It’s great that our medical system is holding up just fine, but if tourists overwhelm the medical systems at home within a week or two of visiting a Nevada casino, guess what tourists won’t be allowed to do anymore?
Thankfully, Nevadans are recognizing our responsibility towards our visitors and guests and are encouraging each other to… oh, who am I kidding, we’re banning masks in our stores.
Okay, that’s not entirely fair — one internet troll-run motorsports company in the industrial part of Sparks isn’t representative of every business in Nevada. Many Nevada businesses, including our casinos, have been encouraging, if not outright bribing, patrons into wearing masks for a while now. Granted, it wasn’t working very well, which is why the Culinary Union is lawyering up and why there’s now a statewide mandate on the books (it’s a lot easier to tell customers to do what you want them to do when you can say “it’s the law” while you’re doing it). But, for the most part, they’ve been trying.
However, that local motorsports company does nicely demonstrate a reflexive oppositional defiance that does Nevada as much harm as good sometimes.
On the one hand, I’m honestly thankful that several county sheriffs, including Washoe County’s, are refusing to apply civil or criminal penalties to those caught without a mask on (and educating people that it’s not, in fact, illegal to wear a mask and concealed carry). Even Gov. Sisolak doesn’t want them, though whether he’s saying that because he really means it or because he knows that nobody would listen if he said otherwise is open to discussion. Regardless of his motivations, the Drug War has nicely demonstrated that enforcement of routinely violated laws falls disproportionately against the poor and people of color and it’s nice to see Nevada’s law enforcement refusing to push its luck. Fines are just taxes paid by the unlucky and we need fewer people in prisons, especially during a pandemic.
On the other hand, the War on Drugs is over because drugs won. That’s fine when we’re talking about self-administered recreational substances, but, outside of a very small number of contrarian misanthropic nihilists, nobody actually wants to catch COVID-19. COVID-19 is a virus, not a joint. It does not require consent before entering your body or your family. It does not respond to peer pressure. It does not care if you keep your nose clean. COVID-19 does not entertain, bring euphoria, or alter your perception of your place in the universe. At its best, it inconveniences. At its worst, it debilitates, destroys, and even murders.
We don’t want COVID-19 to win the War on COVID-19. More importantly, we don’t have to lose. If we wear masks and socially distance — not because the governor says we must but because it’s the right thing to do — we can follow the same trajectory Europe and East Asia are experiencing. Europeans and East Asians aren’t dying of mask-triggered asthma attacks, headaches, pneumonia, fungal infections, or anything else of the sort. Granted, you might get sick if you’re using a cloth mask and don’t wash it in hot water and detergent between uses, but the same could be said for your underwear.
Wash your underwear.
I don’t like being told what to do, either. However, I like getting sick even less and I really don’t like visiting friends and family members in hospitals. Hospitals are depressing, the parking is too expensive, and the food is terrible. So, if you can wear a mask, please wear a mask.
Don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for Gov. Sisolak. Don’t do it for the casinos. Do it for everyone else that wouldn’t dare to ask you to. Do it for you.
David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected].