Photograph: Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Associated Press
Carolyn Goodman, the independent mayor of Las Vegas, has said she wants the city’s casinos, hotels and stadiums to quickly reopen in an interview that attracted widespread criticism.
“I want our restaurants open. I want our small businesses open. I want people back in employment,” Goodman told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who was clearly flabbergasted, in an interview on Wednesday.
“I’d love everything open because I think we’ve had viruses for years that have been here,” the mayor added. “I want us open in the city of Las Vegas so our people can go back to work.”
Las Vegas Mayor: ” I’d love everything open because I think we’ve had viruses for years that have been here.” (The financial duress is profound. It’s so real. And yet this interview is totally insane.) pic.twitter.com/qSN6atlFiL
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) April 22, 2020
Cooper asked Goodman if the city would have more than the 150 deaths it has tallied had it not imposed social distancing measures.
“Well, how do you know unless you have a control group?” she said, adding that she had offered to let Las Vegas be a control group but was rebuffed by statisticians.
Las Vegas Mayor offers city as “control group”, “we offer to be a control group” to see how many people die without social distancing. pic.twitter.com/NESE2hActE
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) April 22, 2020
Cooper pressed Goodman on how she would ensure coronavirus was not spread at the city’s hotels and casinos, describing the tourist attractions as a “Petri dish” for possible infection.
She hedged when Cooper asked if she’d be willing to spend nights on casino floors alongside other visitors. “What’s the purpose of that? First of all, I have a family,” she said.
Goodman said it should be up to casinos to weigh the odds of spreading the virus.
“You’re being an alarmist,” Goodman told Cooper. As to how to protect the staff and visitors at casinos and hotels, she said: “That’s up to them to figure out.”
The interview quickly attracted criticism, with one veteran Nevada journalist calling it “the single most embarrassing thing” he had seen from a state politician in 35 years.
I have seen many Nevada officials stumble on national TV. But that was the single most embarrassing thing i have seen by a NV pol in 35 years here. The mayor just showed the country she is unfit for office, and the commentary and shock and disgust here bears that out. My God.
— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) April 22, 2020
Other observers pounced on the mayor’s comments. The talkshow host Jimmy Kimmel referred to the interview as “bonkers” and said she “should resign before lunch arrives today”.
The @mayoroflasvegas Carolyn Goodman should resign before lunch arrives today. She is an embarrassment to my hometown.
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) April 22, 2020
Local officials and union representatives also spoke out against the mayor’s comments. The casino workers’ Culinary Union, which represents about 60,000 bartenders, cooks, housekeepers and other employees, said Goodman’s remarks were “outrageous considering essential frontline workers have been dealing with the consequences of this crisis firsthand”.
“Workplaces need to be safe and healthy, not a petri dish,” said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, the union’s secretary-treasurer. The union said 11 of its members so far have died of Covid-19.
Brian Knudsen, a Las Vegas City councilman, said Goodman “does not speak for all of us”, and reopening now “is reckless and completely contrary to the overwhelming consensus of medical experts”, while Dina Titus, a Democratic congresswoman who represents the Las Vegas Strip, said the mayor doesn’t represent the area “literally or figuratively” and the advice of scientists telling people to stay home should be heeded.
The interview adds to the mayor’s previous controversial comments.
“Assume everybody is a carrier,” Goodman said on Tuesday on MSNBC. “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, they become evident that they have disease, they’re closed down. It’s that simple.”
Last week, she referred to sweeping orders to close non-essential businesses as “total insanity”, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
It’s not the first time the city’s response to coronavirus has landed it in the national spotlight.
In late March, images of homeless people sleeping in a converted parking lot prompted widespread condemnation after officials turned the outdoors lot into a temporary shelter.
Related: Las Vegas parking lot turned into ‘homeless shelter’ with social distancing markers
City officials at the time said it was the best option available to deal with an “emergency situation”, after another homeless shelter was forced to close.
Last week, Las Vegas touted a new “isolation and quarantine complex” for homeless people, erected in the same city-owned parking lot. The shelter consists of a series of tents for homeless people who have coronavirus but are not sick enough to go to the hospital.
Goodman’s comments came a day after public health officials in Nevada reported 119 new cases of Covid-19 and nine additional deaths overnight in Clark county, where Las Vegas is located. Statewide, officials have tallied more than 4,000 coronavirus cases and 172 deaths.
Across the county, pockets of resistance have risen to challenge lockdown restrictions, with protesters calling on states to re-open businesses. On Twitter and in press conferences, Donald Trump has fanned the flames, suggesting some places have gone too far in issuing restrictions.
Agencies contributed reporting