LAS VEGAS (AP) — Mesquite Mayor Al Litman has taken it upon himself to send his message directly to the residents of his city 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas to “keep the faith” and stay “Mesquite strong” during the coronavirus.
Most mornings, Litman sits down at his desk in Mesquite City Hall, faces the camera and records himself for a three to five minutes providing updates on the issues related to the pandemic. Then he uploads the messages online for the 20,000 local residents.
Litman started the daily recordings March 18, the day casinos were shut down in Nevada. He said he had tried to keep the tone nonpartisan and calm, and give residents the information they need to stay safe. Through new briefings delivered multiple times a week, Litman has been one of the most consistently communicative politicians in the state.
“Here in Mesquite we just don’t have a good source of information,” Litman said.
Communications options are limited, he said, and people in Mesquite are desperate for news.
Enter the daily briefings. Litman hits a plethora of topics and cites national and local organizations and publications.
In a video published Monday, Litman raised concerns about the mental health ramifications of the pandemic and of a potential spread of the virus in casinos.
The nature of small towns such as Mesquite, in which everybody pretty much knows everybody else in town, means the rumor mill can work in overdrive. That makes getting the truth out paramount.
“Again, I know a lot of these people, and that’s a good thing, it’s a small town,” he said. “So they trust you. If you’re going to deceive somebody, believe me, it doesn’t go very far here.”
Mesquite has not seen the higher COVID-19 infection rates of Las Vegas. The most recent numbers from the Southern Nevada Health District reported 40 confirmed cases in Mesquite. No one in the city has died from the virus, and most residents have been using common sense in regard to social distancing and other protective measures, Litman said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Unrest has gripped cities across the nation in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis, and the resulting mass protests have caused concern about possibly sparking an uptick in coronavirus cases nationwide. That has not been an issue in Mesquite; Litman said there was one peaceful march with fewer than 100 participants earlier in June.
“It didn’t hit us nearly as badly as the big cities, there’s no doubt about it,” Litman said.
Mesquite won’t escape the pandemic unaffected, though, Litman said, as he expects some businesses will fail due to the pandemic’s effects going forward, especially with customer capacity being limited in many businesses.
For now, he’s trying to get as much information out as possible. The mayor often extends time on the videos to other officials or workers who have messages that need to get out.
Michelle Reber is an office administrator in the Mesquite city attorney’s office, which runs a program that provides services to victims of crimes, including domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Reber said getting information out to the public can be difficult. Enter Litman, who approached Reber to speak about the program on his June 15 briefing.
“It’s been a little bit difficult not being able to do as much face to face, I would say,” Reber said.
Stephanie Woolley is the director of social services at the Salvation Army, which provides services such as rental assistance and food distribution in Mesquite.
Woolley has been in the mayor’s briefings twice.
The mayor’s briefings, Woolley said, are an important resource for the community.
“He’s just wanting to get the word out to help everybody,” Woolley said. “He’s been very proactive during this crisis.”
Litman said he was planning on continuing the briefings “as long as it takes.”
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Litman said. “I don’t know if this situation’s going to get far worse or if it’s going to remain pretty static.”
As he signed off his latest video, he told Mesquite residents to stay safe, and stay smart.
“I want us to move forward, not backward,” he said. “Keep the faith. We are Mesquite strong.”