By Sam Kumar
Last week marked the one-year anniversary of Governor Sisolak’s 30-day shutdown to flatten the curve. As we know, this was followed by a series of stay-at-home orders, park closures, mask mandates, and a host of other restrictions through executive orders. Today, a year later, many businesses are still forced to operate at 50% capacity. Starting May 1, the Governor has announced that he may allow local governments to determine the gathering and capacity sizes.
Let’s review the genesis of these restrictions. We were told the restrictions were for two weeks…. Just two weeks. Then it was to flatten the curve. Then it was about hospital capacity. Then it was about deaths. Now it is about cases. Stay home, save lives said the bumper sticker. It’s the science, claimed the networks. While the goalposts have consistently shifted, the impact has been the same: High unemployment, where Nevada sits at 8.1% and is now tied for 6th in the country.
The question is, was it all worth the sacrifice? Did Nevada save lives with these restrictions? Let us look at the data to see if shutdowns made a difference. The United States has a population of around 333 million based on the most recent estimates. There have been 507,227 COVID deaths as of March 6th. That calculates to 1.55 COVID deaths per 1000 population. Nevada, which has had significant restrictions, has a greater than average death rate at 1.66 COVID deaths per 1000 population. Compare that with Florida and Texas where the businesses have been mostly open. Florida’s COVID deaths per 1000 population are 1.37 and Texas clocks in at 1.62, better than Nevada in both cases. As we look across all states, the data is mixed at best, and there is no significant difference in mortality rates between states which shut down and state which did not. Given that information, what is the rationale to continue with restrictions which cripple the economy?
Nevada’s mandate to partially or fully shut down businesses completely ignores the more detailed data that has been available for quite some time. We can all understand a panic-induced shut down in March 2020 when we did not have enough data to draw conclusions. Starting last fall, however, we had plenty of data presenting solid patterns which should have been informing our decisions. For instance, let’s review the school closures. The under-18 years-old population in the US is around 75 million. Total COVID deaths in that age group across the entire nation stand at 216. That is under three deaths in a million. Explain to me again why we closed our schools? Now, let’s discuss business closures. The national COVID mortality rate for the working-age population, under-65, is 0.00039. Does the mortality rate of 0.00039 warrant a government-mandated shutdown? I recognize that individual circumstances may vary, and if one considers his/her risk to be high, he/she should be allowed to stay home and no one should lose their job as a consequence. (Note: Data in the above two paragraphs come from US Census Bureau and Centers for Disease Control)
One final point: In addition to ravaging Nevada’s economy, Nevada has also squandered a precious opportunity to attract businesses exiting California. Businesses moving out of California are skipping clear over Reno/Sparks and moving straight to places like Salt Lake City, which is #1 in the nation in population growth, clocking in at a whopping 12.3% growth since last April (Source: LinkedIn).
With strong executive leadership and utilization of data, Nevada could have kept schools and businesses open with minimal restrictions, created a positive business environment, captured exiting California businesses, gained high-paying jobs, and broadened its tax base. While we have lost a good chunk of that opportunity, let’s at least try to salvage what’s left. Let businesses decide on whether to stay open and let the employees and customers decide if they feel comfortable returning. Let us end the broad government-mandated restrictions, open Nevada, and let people live their lives. It’s long overdue!
Sam Kumar is a guest writer and former Chairman for the Washoe County Republican Party.