Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman went on CNN on Wednesday to explain why economic hardship motivated her call for her city to get back to work even amid a novel coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 40,000 people in the U.S. out of more than 800,000 confirmed cases.
The interview did not go well.
Host Anderson Cooper repeatedly pressed Goodman on her sometimes contradictory positions on coronavirus strategy, in a lengthy exchange that at different points left them both exasperated with the other.
Partway through, Cooper, 52, took off his glasses and rubbed his face as though perturbed. Elsewhere, Goodman, 81, laughed at what she found to be unusual questions and told him once: “Oh you are good, Anderson, you are tough.”
The footage quickly spread around social media, where it was seen hundreds of thousands of times.
Goodman repeatedly pointed back to what she said was the severe financial toll taken by the stay-home strategy to slow the virus. But she said it was not her place to give guidelines to private businesses on how to safely reopen.
“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,” she said. “Right now we’re in a crisis health-wise, and so for a restaurant to be open or a small boutique to be open they better figure it out — that’s their job, that’s not the mayor’s job.”
“I’m not a private owner of a hotel, I wish I were,” she said. “And I would have the cleanest hotel with six feet figured out for every human being who comes in there.”
Goodman also said improving testing capacity was not under her authority. She said she sent along any testing or medical resources that came through her office to area hospitals.
“Sadly, it’s not my job,” she said, “I just assume everybody can be an asymptomatic carrier.”
She was “pretty sure she possibly had it [the coronavirus] in January,” she told Cooper, and she had gone to donate her plasma to help researchers.
Nevada, like nearly every other state, is under some form of stay-at-home order. In Nevada, only essential businesses remain open and people can leave home for crucial business or for exercise.
That means Goodman’s push is basically symbolic as her local power is trumped by the governor, Steve Sisolak, whom she said she admired but with whom she disagreed (as she has said multiple times).
“Who are his people and are they in fact the best that we can have?” she said on CNN on Wednesday. “I’m assuming yes and all I’m doing is asking for a plan, so I can tell our people who are calling by the thousands when are they gonna get a paycheck, how can they get a roof over their heads.”
Gov. Sisolak told reporters last week he was “not going to respond to the attacks or comments made about me.”
“I know it’s tough to stay home, I know that,” he said, “but I’m putting lives ahead of dollars.”
“I want our restaurants open, I want our small businesses open, I want our people back in employment,” Goodman said on CNN Wednesday. “We have so many families that can’t even afford to get the groceries for their family because they’ve been out of work for six weeks.”
As the pandemic continues, more and more politicians have been openly debating the balance between preventing more death from the virus and trying to stop sustained economic downturn as people remain at home.
But health experts have repeatedly stressed that the coronavirus’ contagiousness and the lack of treatments or a vaccine make it a particular threat, especially to people over 60 and those with underlying health conditions.
“I’d love everything open, because I think we’ve had viruses for years that have been here,” Goodman told Cooper.
Later in the interview, she mentioned the Legionnaires disease outbreak in Philadelphia in 1976 and the story of Mary Mallon, better known as “Typhoid Mary” because she was an infamous asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever in the early 20th century, which led her to be forcibly quarantined.
Goodman also said she had had a neighbor who died of the West Nile virus.
“This is a part of life is the challenges,” she said.
Early in her CNN appearance, Goodman said she “of course” agreed with the social distancing strategy that health experts say has been crucial to slow the spread of the virus by making people stay indoors and avoid public gatherings.
But later she questioned whether social distancing was effective after she cited the relatively low number of confirmed cases and deaths in her area compared to widespread unemployment from the social shutdown.
Cooper asked her if she thought her point wasn’t actually proving his, too: that social distancing should continue until the healthcare system was strong enough to contain future outbreaks.
“How do you know, until we have a control group?” Goodman said.
When he asked her if he meant she wanted the city’s residents to forego social distancing as a kind of experiment to see if the virus spread as normal, Goodman told Cooper not to “put words in my mouth.” She suggested she was referring only to herself.
“What I said was I offered to be a control group,” she said.
But, she told Cooper, “It was turned down.”
She also cast doubt on the widespread scientific consensus that increased testing and contact tracing — being able to determine who an infected person has been around — are prerequisites for a community to try and return to normal while containing future outbreaks.
The federal government’s guidance for individual states on how to reopen also notes testing and tracing are key.
“That can’t work, we’re not getting the truth,” Goodman told Cooper, suggesting this was not the first time health officials had misled Nevadans. “And I know over the years going back to the 1950s with the atomic bomb — ‘don’t worry about it when we’re testing in Nevada, you’ll all be fine, take a shower.’ “
Perhaps the most pointed moment came about halfway through the interview.
“Wow, okay that’s really ignorant,” Cooper chided Goodman while trying to explain how easily the coronavirus can spread by citing Chinese research.
“We’re back to China. This isn’t China, this is Las Vegas, Nevada,” she said.
“That’s an ignorant, ignorant statement,” he told her, adding, “They’re human beings, too.”
“Of course they are,” she replied.
Elsewhere in the interview, Cooper asked Goodman to what extent she wanted her city to reopen — casinos and restaurants as well as conventions and sporting events?
“I want everything back,” Goodman said. “We’ve never closed down the United States, we’ve never closed down Nevada, we’ve never closed down Las Vegas, ‘cause that’s our job: an entertainment capital of the world where everything’s clean. We would never have gotten to the point we are now as a center for entertainment, conventions and sports and everything else and so positive without being clean.”
Cooper asked her if she thought there was risk in encouraging people to travel to Las Vegas as a major tourist hub and then return to their homes where they might be unwitting transmitters of the virus.
“What it sounds like you’re being an alarmist,” she said. “I’m not. I’ve lived a long life, I grew up in the heart of Manhattan. I know what it’s like to be with subways and on buses and crammed into elevators.”
“It’s a responsibility of each one of us as a human being and part of the civilized world to know when we’re sick,” Goodman said. “We don’t do bad things to people at all ever. This is a city that’s built itself because of the ingenuity and creativity and passion that people have here to work and to live the American dream and that’s who we are and we have proven we’ve been very successful.”
Cooper asked Goodman if she would per her “life on the line” and go onto the casino floors if they could reopen. She responded incredulously.
“First of all I don’t gamble, I used to gamble when we first came to town,” she said. “I don’t have the time. I work seven days a week, I have so many things that I have to attend to.”
“It’s been always about putting our workers back to work,” she told Cooper. “It is not about the casinos, it’s not about anything other than putting those who’ve lost their jobs in a city that wasn’t broken and didn’t have disease back to work.”
“You’re offering nothing other than being a cheerleader, which I guess is part of what your job is and I respect that,” Cooper told Goodman, acknowledging the economic effects of shutdowns.
But he said it seemed like she was not taking responsibility for public health and people’s safety by not advocating a clear plan to reopen, even if the city could do so.
“You’re talking disease, I’m talking life,” she said. “I’m talking life and living.”
“Okay that makes no sense,” Cooper interjected.
“Well it maybe doesn’t to you,” she said. “It does to us here in Las Vegas.”
Goodman, an independent in her third term as mayor, overwhelmingly won re-election in 2019 but is restricted from seeking a fourth term. She succeeded her husband in the office; he was mayor from 1999 to 2001.
According to a New York Times tracker, there were about 4,080 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Nevada as of Wednesday and 172 deaths, almost all of them in the Las Vegas area.
A spokesman with Goodman’s office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
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