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The only way out of this is through (opinion)

By ThisIsReno

Submitted by Meghan Simons | Feature Image: Ty O’Neil

In 2003, R&R Partners devised a smash hit slogan to rebrand Las Vegas: “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” It recast Vegas with a wink as a gleefully debauched bastion of freedom where tourists could get as wild as they pleased. Seventeen years later, as The Strip would have been preparing for the influx of tourists and wedding parties, the neon is dark.

A statewide shutdown of the gambling and service industries seemed unimaginable in early March, but as active cases of COVID-19 rose around Nevada, it appeared inevitable. Before the advent of stay-at-home orders and mass layoffs, Reno was experiencing clear-cut growing pains.

According to reports from local real estate firm Johnson Perkins Griffin, between 2015 and 2019, the average rent in the Reno-Sparks metro area rose 44.14 percent, while data from the US Board of Labor Statistics showed an increase in weekly wages of just 11.85 percent. With the shutdown and closures, a large swath of Renoites went from barely hanging on to a free fall.

Last weekend, conservative radio host Monica Jaye joined with Fight for Nevada to hold a march in downtown Reno. On their website, FFN encourages sending organization head Angela Blass donations via Venmo and CashApp. They also accuse Nevada COVID-19 Task Force Chairman Jim Murren of being involved in the Oct. 1 [Route 91 shooting in Las Vegas] in “various ways,” alleging he knowingly sold stock in MGM weeks before the shooting. The shadowy organization’s primary mission of attempting to recall Governor Steve Sisolak began in mid-February.

As Jaye led a crowd of approximately 100 marchers downtown, participants told reporters they lost jobs, had not received unemployment, and did not see why they should remain at home. While attendees’ anger is valid, it is misdirected by zealous charlatans capitalizing on uncertainty and economic suffering to push their own agenda.

It’s no secret the unemployment system is an outdated mess, and Sisolak has not communicated well overall with the public. But by following Pied Pipers like FFN and Jaye, they are manipulated into placing us all at significant risk.

Monica Jaye at the Fight for Nevada protest in Reno April 25, 2020.
Monica Jaye at the Fight for Nevada protest in Reno April 25, 2020. Image: Ty O’Neil

Jaye proclaimed it was about liberty and freedom, but the truth is more convoluted.

In a heated discussion with local Reno musicians who attacked Jaye’s rally and wished she would get COVID-19, Jaye fired back that while she recently had her nails done, she gave her “nail girl” a “huge tip so she could buy food. So many selfish people out there.” Jaye did not say if the tip would cover a potential fine from the Nevada Board of Cosmetology. Commenters defending Jaye fervently repeated the erroneous belief that COVID-19 is no deadlier than the flu, and Jaye herself wrote, “[Y]ou guys are so but [sic] hurt and scared about a form of the Chinese virus.”

This brand of misinformation can have fatal consequences. When even the worst week of seasonal flu deaths is compared to COVID-19, COVID-19 killed exponentially more people. The Centers for Disease Control emphasizes this disease is dangerous precisely because of its long incubation period, rate of asymptomatic infection, and propensity to swiftly kill previously healthy and immunocompromised people alike via catastrophic organ failure.

Event attendees and leaders of these events are weary of being inconvenienced and wish to force Renoites back to work to serve them for low pay, no benefits, and at high risk. They want haircuts, slot machines, wine walks, and golf, without regard for the underpaid and immunocompromised people they may be infecting. These are the “selfish people” who Jaye should lament.

A protester in Carson City
A ReOpen Nevada protester holds a sign referencing the risk of contracting COVID-19, April 18, 2020 in Carson City. Image: Eric Marks

Nevadans have worked to flatten the curve, but as I wrote online March 23, “The hell of it is, successfully mitigating and suppressing this will hopefully feel like an overreaction because that means it’s WORKING.”

Contrary to the popular slogan, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. What happens in Reno will not stay in Reno. This virus does not recognize borders, no matter how many times “GO BACK TO CALIFORNIA” is posted in comment sections. It can cause lasting damage, whether its host considers it a threat or not. On April 27, the Washoe County Health District announced people who attended Easter gatherings caused a spike in COVID-19 cases. The internet is littered with stories of people who thought the risk was overhyped and nevertheless died from Coronavirus.

While it is tempting to view these stories with schadenfreude, I don’t. It’s emblematic of the selfish individualism permeating the rallies in Carson City and Reno. I truly hope Monica Jaye and other rally attendees don’t get COVID-19. Their callous apathy toward their neighbors makes an infection in even one of them a potential ‘super spreader’ event. One person shrugging off that cough as “just allergies” can infect dozens.

Reno has shown an abundance of community spirit via the masks made for essential personnel, the food delivered to hospitals, care packages for sanitation workers, and gift cards surreptitiously slipped to grocery store clerks by appreciative customers. The only way out of this is through. The only way through is together. Hold fast to that anger, and use it to advocate for a living wage and a safety net that won’t fray under stress. Spread kindness, not hatred and disease. We are only as safe as our most vulnerable, and I sincerely hope next spring I’m mocked as overly cautious instead of woefully correct.

M.K. Simmons

M.K. Simons lives in Reno and is a professional specializing in the treatment of substance use disorders. She is a single mom of twins and has written on politics for over a decade. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her kids, wandering Reno, and hiking on Mt. Rose from a respective social distance. Any opinions expressed here are her own and are not to be taken as those of any employers, groups, or professional boards with whom she is affiliated. 

Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

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