PHOENIX (AP) — Hundreds of protesters descended on the Arizona Capitol on Monday to demand Gov. Doug Ducey lift restrictions on businesses meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Flouting the recommendations of health officials to remain at least 6 feet from others and wear masks in public, demonstrators said the government has vastly overreacted to the disease.
“The Bill of Rights has no exceptions for pandemics,” said 35-year-old Jeremy Graham of Tempe.
The demonstration echoes several others outside state Capitols and governors’ mansions around the U.S.
In states such as Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia, small-government groups and supporters of right-wing causes have united behind a deep suspicion of efforts to shut down daily life to slow the spread of COVID-19. Frustrated demonstrators also have visibly ignored social distancing rules while holding signs and protesting together.
A small group of health care workers counter-protested at a large rally in Colorado demanding the state reopen and ease the restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
President Donald Trump last week unveiled a framework for governors to follow to reopen their states. But he acknowledged they will have the final say. Health experts warn that lifting restrictions too quickly could result in a surge of new infections.
Protesters in Phoenix crammed together in a park across from the Statehouse to hear from two state lawmakers and others before marching toward Ducey’s office. Some went inside the building that houses the Republican’s offices.
A handful of police stood watch but did not break up the protest and Ducey’s office did not say if there would be consequences to gathering in violation of his stay-at-home order. The Arizona Department of Public Safety says no arrests were made at the rally.
Ducey has been cautious in describing how and when he might ease the restrictions that he issued March 30 and due to expire April 30.
Arizona's Family spoke with an emergency room doctor who said three things need to happen before businesses can open back up.
He said last week that there are signs the number of infections may be stabilizing, but he wants to see more data before starting to reopen the economy. He said he wants “see everyone get back to work and back with their lives when it is safe and healthy to do so.”
Ducey sounded a similar theme in response to Monday’s demonstration.
“We appreciate the passion expressed by Arizonans today, and we share their desire to get back to normal as quickly as possible,” Ducey’s spokesman, Patrick Ptak, said.
It's the question on the minds of Americans everywhere: When will this all be over?
Ptak said decisions will be guided by public health experts and the recommendations of the Trump administration.
"I sympathize with them. I realize that they want to get back to work, people get bored at home, etc. It'd be great if they just kind of continue for a little while," said Dr. Frank Lovecchio.
He's an emergency room physician. He said Arizona reached its peak but when researchers made that prediction, they factored in that social distancing continues through the end of May.
"We think about maybe 5% of people in Arizona, maybe has high as 6 or 7, depending on your population. So if you go to a crowd and there's 100 people, think that five people have it and the people that spread it most are the people that are asymptomatic or those that are very early in the disease before they develop symptoms," said Lovecchio.
The restrictions have taken an economic toll.
Arizona, and the rest of the U.S., has seen a massive increase in unemployment filings as people who lost their jobs apply for benefits. The state reported it had more than 95,000 new claims last week, bringing the four-week total to more than 342,000. The average before the virus hit was about 3,500 claims a week.
“We need to open up the state, we need to open up the country,” said Michael Apodaca, a 66-year-old retiree from Scottsdale who wore a hat supporting Trump at the protest. “The people reject what they’ve done, and they reject the notion of taking our rights.”
Ducey’s order allows “engaging in constitutionally protected activities such as speech and religion” as long as it’s “conducted in a manner that provides appropriate physical distancing to the extent feasible.”
Political pressure is building to reopen the state.
The demonstration was reminiscent of a Trump campaign rally. Many protesters carried American flags or Trump campaign flags. A massive bus was wrapped in signs supporting Trump’s campaign.
Some protesters raised signs urging Ducey to “re-open Arizona.” Another said: “Cure is worse than virus.” And a third: “Give me liberty or give me death.”
People in cars and trucks drove in circles around the Capitol honking horns and waving flags. One pickup truck had a sign in the back urging people to ignore the stay-at-home order, saying “tyranny only works if we comply.”
Dr. Lovecchio said COVID-19 isn't going anywhere and we should be practicing social distancing, even after the state reopens.
"If you're asking from a public health standpoint, best practices right now would be to continue social distancing if you're out in public, if you have to go out in public for certain things you should wear a mask because you could be one of those asymptomatic carriers," said Lovecchio.
For most people, the 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. The vast majority of people recover.
Meanwhile, the White Mountain Apache Tribe in eastern Arizona reported that nine inmates and four employees in its corrections department had tested positive for the virus.
None of the 13 people showed symptoms but were tested as a result of contact mapping. The inmates in question are in quarantine, while the officers are isolated at home, officials said.