As Protests Against Staying At Home Sweep America, Medical Workers Make A Stand

Medical staff are supporting people following physical distancing, and laws to enforce this, and some are facing up to angry people with guns and big cars to do it. diy13/Shutterstock.com

Despite the USA being the epicenter of the global Covid-19 pandemic with 761,964 confirmed cases and 35,314 deaths, rallies are being held across much of the United States against shelter-at-home laws. Doctors, nurses and others on the front line of the pandemic are fighting back, both with powerful pleas for people to understand the reality of the situation, and by physically interrupting attempts to blockade state capitals.

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite famous for its capacity to infect the brains of its victims, causing them to engage in more risk-taking behavior, which helps it spread. SARS-CoV-2 appears to be achieving something similar, even among those it has not infected. Urged on by the president, multiple US states have seen crowds of demonstrators, many carrying guns, claiming that prioritizing saving the lives of others over getting a haircut or a going to a bar is a violation of their civil liberties.

All but a handful of sparsely populated states are under some form of stay-at-home ruling. Protests have been largest in states that haven't been hit hard yet, with little opposition to the guidelines in places like New York, New Jersey, and Conneticut where the virus is now comfortably the largest cause of death each day, exceeding all cancers combined. The exception is Michigan, where most of the shockingly large number of victims have been African-American, something unlikely to concern those waving Confederate flags on the anniversary of President Lincoln's assassination. 

Some rallies have been on foot, raising the risk of infections spreading like wildfire, though many have occurred in the relative safety of cars, even being promoted as “Operation Gridllock”. Counter-protesters, reportedly healthcare workers, have seized the opportunity to peacefully protest back, blocking the path of the convoys.

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Whether everyone engaged in these counter-protests really is a medical worker is unconfirmed, and many on social media doubt it, but there's no question what those trying to stem the crisis feel about the situation. The heartfelt words of nurses and doctors have gone viral (in a good way).

Based on the placards and news interviews the protestors are motivated by a mixture of denial of the virus's dangers, and valuing their own freedom over the lives of themselves and others. The numerous anti-vaccine signs at the protests indicate many don't think the crisis will end through inoculation, making them see restrictions as perpetual rather than temporary. The fact the websites for protests in many states have a common source casts some doubt on the idea these protests are the grassroots citizens' revolts claimed.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer powerfully made the point that all these demonstrations are doing is delaying what they seek. If enough people obey the rules the disease will fizzle out and something approaching normality will return in a few months. If people keep giving the virus an opportunity to spread, restrictions will remain necessary, and enforcement may even step up.

It's too early to say how many of these protests have accelerated the spread of the virus, but notably Kentucky, a state previously with relatively few cases, has reported a surge in new positive tests several days after the demonstrations were held there.

Removal of restrictions while the virus circulates will never last. Once enough people witness the consequences of uncontrolled spread, community pressure is for more, not less, government action to stem the slaughter, but by the time that happens, many will have needlessly died.

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