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VICTOR JOECKS: Sisolak’s testing scandal shows why Nevada needs limits on emergency powers

As the official emergency ends, a new scandal shows why Gov. Steve Sisolak never should have been allowed to wield so much power.

On Thursday, Sisolak ended the coronavirus state of emergency, effective early Friday. It had been in place for more than two years and was a previously unimaginable assault on basic liberties. He shut down churches, schools and businesses. He ordered people to stay in their homes unless they left for an approved purpose. At various points, he imposed a mask mandate.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Sisolak’s dramatic measures were understandable. That’s true even as his errors are obvious now. Sisolak can be excused for using emergency powers for two weeks. But not for more than two years.

Look at the destruction Sisolak’s emergency orders leave behind. The learning loss from the Sisolak school shutdown is likely to haunt a generation of low-income and predominantly minority students. Nevada is tied for the third-highest unemployment rate in the country. There’s no way to quantify the human misery caused by forced isolation.

And for what? Nevada suffered more than 10,800 deaths. Per Worldometer, that was a higher death rate than Florida and South Dakota, which had far fewer restrictions.

For two years, I made the case that the best path forward was to give people accurate information to make their own decisions. Philosophically, it was the right approach. Government is supposed to work for its citizens, not impose edicts on them.

Practically, it would have worked better, too. Individuals know the most about their unique situation and priorities. Absent an immediate danger — like a flood or forest fire — there’s no-one-size-fits-all solution.

But there’s a third reason. Decision-making in bureaucracies is often corrupt or influenced by outside pressure, as the public is now learning.

On Monday, ProPublica published a bombshell story on Northshore Clinical Labs, a company that provided coronavirus testing throughout Nevada. One problem. State officials found its PCR tests at the University of Nevada, Reno missed 96 percent of positive cases. That meant people with the coronavirus were told they didn’t have it. It’s impossible to know how many died from lack of early treatment or how this contributed to virus spread.

“Government managers in Nevada ignored their own scientists’ warnings and expanded the lab’s testing beyond schools to the general public,” the report found.

How was that possible?

“ProPublica’s investigation also found that Northshore used political connections, including contracting with the sons of a close friend to the governor, to fast-track its state laboratory license application and secure testing agreements with five government entities in the state,” the report said.

This should be a career-ending scandal for several Sisolak administration officials, potentially including Sisolak. If he wasn’t doling out political favors, why didn’t he alert the public about the false test results? A full and independent investigation is a must.

Don’t miss the bigger irony here, though. Sisolak clung to his emergency powers because he thought you couldn’t be trusted. As it turns out, you couldn’t trust him or even the testing company to which his administration gave preferential treatment.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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