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VICTOR JOECKS: King Sisolak’s shameful coronavirus victim blaming

It’s time for Gov. Steve Sisolak to stop blaming Nevadans for his inability to slow the state’s coronavirus outbreak.

Sisolak has a distasteful habit of presenting the continued spread of coronavirus as a choice. It usually comes toward the end of his long, rambling prepared remarks. It was part of his press conference last Sunday, Dec. 19 when he announced a month-long extension of current restrictions.

“If we want to avoid another Great Depression, avoid preventable deaths and stop the overwhelming of our hospitals while our health care workers are literally crying for help, then we will rise to this occasion and fight,” Sisolak said.

Attention everyone: We have seen the enemy, and it is a microscopic virus from China. Grab your Clorox wipes and prepare for battle. We must rise together but not stand near each other or shout. Actually, if everyone held their breath for two weeks, we’d crush the curve entirely.

A clumsy attempt to rally the troops is bad enough. It’s worse to imply that continued virus spread means Nevadans don’t care about others.

“A lot of folks have been talking about the American people — that we don’t look out for one another like some other countries do,” Sisolak said. He continued, “I refuse to believe that we do not love our neighbors as we love ourselves. I refuse to believe that we do not care about the poor among us.”

Tell us, Gov. Sisolak: Did you catch coronavirus because you don’t love your neighbor? Or was it because you don’t care about the poor?

Sisolak’s press staff refused to take my question last Sunday, so I asked in an email how he caught the virus. “Like many Nevadans, the governor is not sure how he contracted the virus,” an email response read.

Ten days after Sisolak announced his positive coronavirus test, I asked his press office about the last time he had met in-person with a donor or potential donor. His staff refused to answer — twice.

The prosaic explanation for the continued spread of the coronavirus is that highly contagious viruses are highly contagious.

The virus seems to spread in regions, regardless of a jurisdiction’s restrictions. For instance, since September, Nevada and all of its neighboring states have seen their case numbers follow a similar pattern. They were low or dropping at the end of summer. They increased significantly over the following weeks. Utah’s spike seems to have started the earliest. Its case numbers have declined from a mid-to-late November peak. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert even relaxed restrictions on gatherings at private residences before Thanksgiving. As of last week, cases are still dropping.

This could be due to weather changes. One theory is that cases spike after people start spending more time inside. It could be something else. It’s a new virus. There are many unknowns.

But Sisolak won’t acknowledge this uncertainty. He’s spent months justifying his power grabs by implying his king-like edicts will keep Nevadans safe. It obviously hasn’t worked. That’s why he’s resorting to victim blaming.

Here’s the alternative. Because even a governor-turned-king can’t stop COVID-19 from spreading, inform people of their individual risk. Don’t tell an 85-year-old woman to take the virus seriously to help others. Tell her to take it seriously because of the personal risk it poses to people her age. That’s how you change behavior among the most vulnerable. Then allow people to make decisions based on the level of risk they are comfortable with. It’s called freedom.

Government still has a role, of course. After health care workers and nursing home patients, prioritize vaccines for the elderly, not 30-year-old teachers.

This would be a lot more effective than Sisolak’s repeated habit of blaming Nevadans for new coronavirus cases.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698.

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