ABC News Corona Virus Economic Impacts

Las Vegas mayor slammed for suggesting workers could be COVID-19 'control group'

The Culinary Workers union said Sin City is "not a Petri dish."

Las Vegas casino and restaurant workers have pushed back on Mayor Carolyn Goodman's repeated calls to reopen the city's economy, and now local labor unions are outraged after she admitted in a nationally televised interview to suggesting laborers serve as virtual lab rats to determine whether stay-at-home orders really worked in combating the coronavirus.

Goodman, 81, a three-term mayor, began plugging her desire to reopen city businesses in an interview with ABC Las Vegas affiliate KTNV-TV, saying, "In my opinion, you have to go ahead." She added, "Every day you get up, it's a gamble."

In subsequent interviews, Goodman's doubled down on calls to put people back to work, telling MSNBC this week, "Let the businesses open, and competition will destroy that business if, in fact, they become evident that they have the disease."

But on Wednesday night, Goodman prompted additional backlash by telling CNN's Anderson Cooper that she floated the idea of Las Vegas workers becoming a "control group" in an experiment to determine the effectiveness of social distancing measures. As of Thursday, more than 4,200 people in Nevada had been infected with COVID-19, and 189 had died.

"How do you know until you've had a control group?" Goodman said to Cooper. "I offered to be a control group, and I was told by our statistician that you can't do that because people from all parts of Southern Nevada come in to work in the city. And I said, 'Oh, that's too bad because I know that when you have a disease, you have a placebo that gets them water and the sugar, and then you get those that actually get the shot. We would love to be that placebo side so you have something to measure against.'"

The statement set off a flurry of angry responses from labor unions, casino owners and local politicians.

"The Mayor's statements are outrageous considering essential frontline workers have been dealing with the consequences of this crisis firsthand," Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union Local 226, said in a statement.

"Health and safety is our priority -- workers and guests have to be safe," said Arguello-Kline, adding that 11 union members had lost their lives to the virus. "We want people back to work, but it has to be safe and secure and we don't want workers to be part of an experiment. Workplaces need to be safe and healthy -- not a Petri dish."

During an April 15 City Council meeting, Goodman, an Independent, called Nev. Gov. Steve Sisolak's stay-at-home orders, enacted March 20 and which closed casinos and other non-essential businesses, "total insanity."

"I will not allow the citizens of Nevada, our Nevadans, to be used as a control group, as a placebo, whatever she wants to call it," Sisolak said in response to Goodman's televised statements. "We want to welcome everybody back to Las Vegas. We want to welcome them back to the lights on the Strip. But it's not today, and it's not tomorrow."

President Donald Trump, who owns Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, expressed tacit approval of Sisolak's wait-and-see approach during a White House coronavirus briefing on Sunday.

"They closed a big hotel down in Nevada that I have in Las Vegas. It's a very severe step he took. I'm OK with it," Trump said. "But you could call that one either way."

Members of the Clark County Commission said they oversee the Las Vegas Strip and that Goodman has no authority to order casinos in the unincorporated area to reopen. Commission member Justin Jones posted a message on Twitter describing the mayor as "an embarrassment to our city."

Las Vegas City Councilman Brian Knudsen blasted the mayor's comments, saying in a statement she "does not speak for all of us.”

"Reopening the City or Clark County ... now is reckless and completely contrary to the overwhelming consensus of medical experts," Knudsen said.