Vegas, what the fuck you doing?
On Wednesday, Las Vegas’s cartoon caricature of a casino town mayor Carolyn Goodman appeared on CNN with host Anderson Cooper to justify her call to re-open the city’s businesses to hundreds of thousands of tourists during the coronavirus pandemic. The result was humiliating. To say this did not go well is like saying the Hindenburg’s final landing attempt was just a little oopsie.
Goodman, who has claimed that the real pandemic is media hype and it’s fine if the disease spreads because “competition” will run the most disease-ridden casinos out of business, doubled down under fire from Cooper while deflecting any responsibility for the consequences. (While the Las Vegas Strip is technically part of unincorporated Clark County, there are still numerous hotels, casinos, and entertainment venues in the city limits, and Goodman is under pressure to put the whole region back to work.) The whole thing is really worth watching just to get a grasp on how far the mayor is willing to go to twist the reality of the situation to allow for her desired outcome, which is apparently just pretending the pandemic magically isn’t happening.
“I want everything back,” Goodman told Cooper, referring to casinos, bars, restaurants, restaurants, conference centers, stadiums, and presumably strip clubs. She then dubiously claimed that Las Vegas was a tourism hotspot in large part because of its cleanliness, not, say, that other thing.
“We never closed down the United States,” Goodman said. “We’ve never closed down Nevada. We’ve never closed down Las Vegas because that’s our job. Entertainment capital of the world where everything is clean… We would never have gotten to the point we are now as the center for entertainment, conventions and sports and everything else so positive without being clean.”
There are over 846,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., with nearly 47,000 confirmed deaths. In Clark County, that tally stands at around 3,100 confirmed cases and 141 deaths. Reopening the entire area to crowds of tourists poses the obvious risk of making the county’s current numbers look like a comparative walk in the park—not to mention that anyone who contracted the virus in Vegas could return home and spread it for days to weeks before noticing any symptoms.
Cooper asked the mayor how she could justify having hundreds of thousands “smoking, drinking, touching slot machines, breathing circulated air, and then returning home to states around America and countries around the world. Doesn’t that sound like a virus petri dish?” Goodman responded that Cooper was being “alarmist.”
She also said she would not issue social distancing rules for the reopened businesses, saying “That’s up to them to figure out. I don’t own a casino. I don’t know anything about building a casino… I’m not a private owner of a hotel, I wish I were, and I would have the cleanest hotel with six feet figured out for every human being who comes in there.”
“If you can’t figure out how to do this safely, why as mayor of a city that you are responsible for the people’s safety, are you calling for something that you have no plan for how it would be done safely?” Cooper asked.
Goodman pivoted to some gobbledygook about freedom and free markets: “I am not a private owner. That’s the competition in this country, the free enterprise, and to be able to make sure that what you offer the public meets the needs of the public. Right now we’re in a crisis health wise and so for a restaurant to be open or for a small boutique to be open, they better figure it out! That’s their job. That’s not the mayor’s job.”
The mayor claimed that Chinese research on how the coronavirus spreads in restaurants isn’t valid in the U.S., saying “This isn’t China, this is Las Vegas, Nevada.”
“Wow, OK, that’s really ignorant,” Cooper said. “That’s an ignorant, ignorant statement. That’s a restaurant, yes in China, but they are human beings too.”
After Goodman claimed that she talks with casino owners every day who are heartbroken that their employees are not working, Cooper responded, “Casino owners are probably doing okay, it’s the people who are working on the floor who are the ones who are going to become infected and potentially die.”
“You’re talking disease,” Goodman responded. “I’m talking life, I’m talking life and living.”
“Okay, that makes no sense,” this visibly dumbfounded Cooper responded.
At another point in the interview, Goodman mashed around vaguely science-y words like a mouthful of oatmeal she was preparing to spit out. The mayor claimed that nobody knows how reopening would go and that she had volunteered her city as a “control group.” (In controlled studies, the control group is the baseline against which results are compared, and the current baseline is social distancing, so what Goodman actually appears to mean is the less PR-friendly term “experimental group.”)
“How do you know until we have a control group?” Goodman asked. “We offer to be a control group. Anybody who knows anything about statistics knows that for instance, you have a vaccine, you give the real vaccine… I did offer, it was turned down.”
When asked by Cooper to confirm she just volunteered the citizens of Las Vegas as test subjects, Goodman responded that was “absolutely wrong” and “don’t put words in my mouth,” adding: “Excuse me. What I said was I offered to be a control group and I was told by statistician 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 when you have a disease, you have a placebo that gets the 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,” Goodman added, overconfidently.
When asked about whether her office was doing anything to speed up access to testing and contract tracing, Goodman responded “It’s not part of our job. That’s part of our health department, part of our hospital jobs, our labs, those are the ones with the experience.”
Even some casino owners are frantically distancing themselves from the mayor, probably because openly proclaiming that Las Vegas should deliberately become the test bed for uncontrolled viral spread isn’t a great marketing strategy.
“She has nothing to do with the strip, and we’re sick and tired of hearing this,” Diamond Resorts International CEO Stephen Cloobeck told MSNBC on Tuesday. He added her calls to reopen Vegas businesses in such a reckless manner are “Utter bullshit. Utter bullshit.”