Las Vegas mayor shocks CNN: I offered our city as a "control group" to see what happens if we opened everything up; Update: Culinary union slams

And I do mean “shocks.” As contentious as cable news interviews tend to be, you don’t often see the host call an elected official “ignorant.”

Not to overhype it, but the most famous political writer in Nevada, Jon Ralston, watched it live on CNN and reacted this way:

Carolyn Goodman, the mayor of Vegas, is one of the country’s loudest voices in the “reopen now” camp. Yesterday she told NBC that it’s “total insanity” that the city is locked down by order of the governor. CNN had her on today to tease that out. What would she like to see happen? Vegas is at a special disadvantage from the pandemic relative to most American cities because so much of its economy depends on hospitality. It’s a city that runs on crowds: Crowds in the casinos, crowds at shows, crowds at bars and restaurants, crowds in hotel lobbies. Remember that story about how a single soccer match in northern Italy in mid-February is suspected of seeding the outbreak that brought Lombardy to its knees? Imagine that in Vegas every night. And in Italy, most soccer fans were local. Vegas attracts tourists from everywhere. Not only is it a perfect incubator for the disease, it’s positioned to spread it to all four corners of the country as visitors arrive, get infected, and return home.

You’d think the mayor would be more cautious under the circumstances. In reality, she’s so gung ho to reopen that she claims to have asked her deputies whether the city might serve as a control group for … something. It’s not clear if she means a control group for doing away with lockdown orders while leaving informal social distancing in place or if she means a control group for ending the lockdowns and ending social distancing. Her position on that seemed to shift during the interview. Every time Anderson Cooper accused her of being reckless in not insisting on keeping people apart, she tut-tutted him and said of course she believes in social distancing. But watch this. Sure sounds to me like she’s questioning whether it’s necessary.

Elsewhere in the clip he asked her what her plan is for casinos and restaurants after they reopen. Once the lockdown orders are lifted, how does she propose to make it safe for people to congregate in confined spaces like casino floors? To which Goodman counters: I’m not a casino owner. Let the businesses worry about it.

Which is a fine laissez faire attitude, and not in conflict with better-informed skeptics who point to data showing that lockdowns don’t work. But the catch is that those same skeptics do endorse various other social distancing measures, including and especially school closings because of the potential for schools to become incubators of the virus. Places that host mass gatherings are obviously a special threat in an epidemic. Schools are one of those places. As, of course, are … casinos and theaters.

Even so, I’d be all for letting her run her “control group” with willing participants *if* they could all be contained in Vegas for a month afterward instead of seeding outbreaks around the United States. The wrinkle in her laissez faire approach to an infectious disease is that, in this case, if you want to party on the Strip you’re not just risking your own health. Potentially you’re risking mine and the health of thousands of other people in your chain of contacts after you’re infected and contagious. Goodman never addresses that point, that in this case what happens in Vegas emphatically does not stay in Vegas. Instead she’s left babbling at times about how people toughed it out during typhoid outbreaks, West Nile, and so on, without lockdowns or mass social distancing. In which case why can’t we do that in this case, with a novel virus for which we have no treatments, no vaccine, and no natural immunity, and which has already killed 40,000 people in six weeks?

At one point Cooper asks her if she’ll head down to the casino once the COVID crew is in there gambling. She doesn’t sound eager. I think she’s presidential material.

Update: One of the engines of Vegas’s hospitality industry is not eager to be part of the “control group.”