At least two Colorado healthcare workers dressed in full scrubs with masks stood silently with their arms crossed on Sunday as they blocked a line of vehicles full of protesters honking their horns and screaming, “This is the land of the free.”
“You go to work. Why can’t I go to work!” a protester can be heard shouting at the medical worker from her truck in the city of Denver.
The silent protest countered the loud demonstration of those rallying against stay-at-home orders in the US state.
“They were blocking the roads until the police force stepped in,” Alyssa McClaran, the photojournalist who captured the standoff, was quoted by the New York Times as saying. “People were putting their cars right up against them.”
The healthcare workers are being lauded as heroes for facing off with protesters [Alyson McClaran/Reuters]
The healthcare workers are being described as “heroes” online after photos of the standoff went viral.
“This nurse blocking anti-lockdown protesters in #Denver, #Colorado is my hero of the day!” tweeted one Twitter user.
The day the healthcare workers had enough. American heroes!
Denver nurses block right-wing protesters! 3!>
h/t David McNally
Photos by Alyson McClaran. pic.twitter.com/9GiH0KSsJY
— Megan (@masterfulwriter) April 20, 2020
The standoff came amid a wave of protests, promoted by some far-right groups and prominent conspiracy theorists, against coronavirus lockdown measures in the United States. President Donald Trump appeared to support the protests last week, saying “LIBERATE MINNESOTA” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” in tweets Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said fomented “domestic rebellion”.
While some protested from their vehicles, many others defied social distancing guidelines as they rallied on state capitol buildings and in front of governors’ homes in several states including, Michigan, Kentucky, Washington, Minnesota, Virginia and Colorado.
“Shutting down businesses by picking winners and losers in which there are essential and non-essential are violations of the state and federal constitution,” Washington state rally organiser Tyler Miller, 39, an engineer from Bremerton, Washington, told Reuters news agency.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) April 20, 2020
Stay-at-home measures, which experts say are essential to slow the spread of the virus, have battered the US economy and more than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past month.
Shutdowns have disrupted economic, social, cultural and religious life, and plunged the world into an economic slump unseen since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Most Americans worry orders will be lifted too early
While the anti-lockdown protests have captured headlines across the US, most Americans are abiding by stay-at-home orders and agree that such measures need to be in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
A new Pew survey, published last week, found that 73 percent of those surveyed said they believed that the “worst is still to come” from the pandemic, which has so far infected at least 760,000 across the US and killed more than 40,700.
A healthcare worker stands in the street to block hundreds of people who gathered at the State Capitol to demand the stay-at-home order be lifted in Denver, Colorado [Alyson McClaran/Reuters]
About twice as many Americans said their greater concern is that state governments will lift restrictions on public activity too quickly as those who said it could not happen quickly enough.
New York has borne the brunt of the virus, which has killed more than 18,000 people in the state, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. On Sunday, there were 507 new deaths from COVID-19, down from a high of more than 700 a day.
Hospitalisations also continued to decline to 16,000 from a high of 18,000, and the number of patients being kept alive by ventilators also fell.
But the region of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC, is still seeing increasing cases. New Jersey reported on Sunday that its new cases rose by nearly 3,900, the most in more than two weeks. The cities in Boston and Chicago are also emerging hotspots with recent surges in cases and deaths.
Healthcare workers stand in the street in counterprotest against hundreds of people who gathered at the State Capitol to demand the stay-at-home order be lifted in Denver, Colorado [Alyson McClaran/Reuters]
Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to see businesses reopen quickly. His administration unveiled new guidelines to reopen the economy, recommending that a state record 14 days of declining case numbers before gradually lifting restrictions.
Some states last week took some of the country’s first, small steps towards loosening restrictions.
In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis gave the green light for municipalities to reopen beaches and parks if they could do so safely. In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott said stores could begin selling items curbside, non-essential surgery could resume and state parks could reopen.
But governors of both parties in other states on Friday suggested they would be cautious in returning to normal, with some warning that they would not be able to do so do without help from Washington to expand testing.