Opinion: Lockdown protesters demand end to social distancing orders, and put the rest of us at risk

quarantine protesters -Lorie Shaull - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Last Sunday, over 2,000 demonstrators rallied at the Washington State Capitol to urge Gov. Jay Inslee to lift current stay-at-home orders. Families brought their children, many unmasked protesters waved American flags (as well as Trump and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags). Few people abided social distancing guidelines of staying six feet apart from each other.

A trio of Republican state lawmakers violated the governor’s order, promoting the rally on social media and speaking to demonstrators at the event. Republican Rep. Robert Sutherland, who represents the 39th legislative district in Snohomish County, urged the activists to revolt if state officials tried to enforce the temporary ban on recreational fishing.

You read that right. “When we go fishing, they’re going to send their guys with guns, and they’re going to write us tickets. Governor, you send men with guns after us for going fishing, we’ll see what a revolution looks like,” said Sutherland, carrying a pistol tucked into his pants.

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney has also announced he will not be enforcing Gov. Inslee’s stay-at-home order, saying it violates people’s constitutional rights. The county has been one of the hardest-hit regions by the coronavirus in the state.

Similar protests have been cropping up around the country, most of which have been organized by larger conservative interest groups like FreedomWorks and Citizens for Self-Governance. The demonstrations are reminiscent of the grassroots tea party movement. However, today’s protests are more reflective of President Trump’s skeptical rhetoric regarding public health expertise than the tea party’s “small government” sentiments of yesteryear.

Despite the nationwide demonstrations, public polling shows that the majority of Americans are in favor of upholding the current protective measures. A recent Pew survey of 5,000 Americans found that 66% of respondents were concerned restrictions would be lifted too quickly, while 32% were concerned restrictions wouldn’t be lifted soon enough.

            It’s completely understandable why some people have been opposing the shutdown order. Millions of Americans are out of a job, and people have families to feed. However, the increasingly partisan argument pitting public health interests against economic interests is short-sighted. Public health officials have been saying the same thing: restrictions need to stay in place until we have more robust testing across the board. A second wave of COVID-19 could hit in the fall, and our current actions determine how our economy will be impacted if that occurs.

“What they’re doing at the end of the day—which I think is so selfish—they’re putting our health care providers, those that are in the trenches trying to save lives every day, they’re putting them at risk, and that’s wrong. I would ask them to think about that,” said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam regarding shutdown protesters in his state.

When you violate the shutdown order and social distancing rules, you aren’t only endangering yourself, especially if you’re an asymptomatic carrier. You’re taking the risk of infecting essential workers, who are already more vulnerable since they regularly come into contact with customers and coworkers. You’re taking the risk of passing the infection onto the people close to you and worsening the outbreak before it’s over.