US anti-lockdown rallies could cause surge in Covid-19 cases, experts warn

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Epidemiologist predicts new epidemic surge as protesters across the US flout social distancing measures

As healthcare workers in Colorado and Pennsylvania staged counter-protests against rightwing anti-quarantine rallies that continue to spread across the US, some experts warned such rallies could cause a surge in coronavirus cases.

Several nurses gathered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Monday, where a protest against stay-at-home orders was taking place. The nurses carried signs urging people to go home.

The SEIU Healthcare union said a number of nurses participated, a day after two healthcare workers in Denver blocked a similar protest in an action that went viral online.

Anti-lockdown rallies have also been seen in states including Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, California and Minnesota. Some epidemiologists predict such protests could cause a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Video of the Harrisburg event showed many protesters defying social distancing recommendations.

Protesters in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on 20 April. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

On Sunday a rally in Olympia, Washington state, attracted more than 2,000 people, according to the Seattle Times. Photos showed hundreds standing in close proximity outside the state capitol.

Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and public health scientist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, tweeted: 2,500 anti-lockdown rally in Olympia, Washington.

I predict a new epidemic surge (incubation time ~5-7 days before onset symptoms, if any, and transmission to associates around that time, even among asymptomatics) so increase in 2-4 weeks from now.

In pictures of the Olympia rally, one man held a sign that said: Governmet [sic] isnt the solution, you are!! Another carried a sign that said: No to 5G!, probably referring a disproven conspiracy theory that the 5G wireless network is responsible for the virus.

Some Washington state representatives took part, including Jim Walsh, Vicki Kraft and Robert Sutherland. According to the Seattle Times, Sutherland appeared to have a handgun tucked into his pants and was particularly upset about a ban on recreational fishing.

Governor, you send men with guns after us when we go fishing, well see what a revolution looks like, he said.

In Denver, as hundreds gathered in their cars to lament stay-at-home orders implemented by Colorados governor, Jared Polis, video and photographs showed two people dressed in medical scrubs standing in front of traffic.

Healthcare workers stand in the street as a counter-protest to those demanding the stay-at-home order be lifted in Denver, Colorado, on 19 April. Photograph: Reuters

Footage showed one worker being subjected to abuse. A middle-aged woman was seen leaning out of a car, waving a sign that said: Land of the free.

This is a free country, she shouted. Land of the free. Go to China if you want communism. Go to China. You go to work, why cant I go to work?

In California, demonstrators converged on the state capitol in Sacramento on Monday, waving American flags and holding signs that ranged from You Dont Own Me to Give My Daughter Her Senior Year to a Trump/Pence banner. Participants seen on a Facebook livestream were generally were not practicing physical distancing.

One livestreamer shouted that the California governor, Gavin Newsom, is a dictator. At his daily briefing, Newsom said he understood peoples anxiety. But we must have a health-first focus if were ultimately going to come back economically.

Many such events have been inspired by a Michigan protest that was planned by the Michigan Conservative Coalition (MCC) and the Michigan Freedom Fund (MFF), rightwing lobbying groups with links to the Trump administration.

Meshawn Maddock, a member of the advisory board of Women for Trump an official arm of the presidents re-election campaign is an MCC member and helped organize the protest at the Michigan state capitol in Lansing last Wednesday.

The MFF has received more than $500,000 from the family of Betsy DeVos, Donald Trumps education secretary. DeVos has personally donated $80,000 in the past four years.

Fox News helped bring the Lansing rally to a wider audience. On Friday, after a favorable broadcast, Trump tweeted: Liberate Michigan!

On Sunday, Trump defended the anti-stay-at-home protesters, many of whom have not followed federal or state social distancing guidelines.

Theyve got cabin fever, Trump told reporters at a White House briefing. They want their lives back. These people love our country. They want to get back to work.

In turn, the Denver healthcare workers, who were photographed by journalist Alyson McClaran, received an outpouring of support online.

Then on Monday evening at the White House briefing, the president took another tack, predicting a resurgence of the US economy as states move to reopen, but noting it should be done with careful hygiene, social distancing and other measures.

Moments later Dr Deborah Birx, the resource coordinator of the White House coronavirus taskforce and a regular presence at the daily briefings, said: We have asked every governor, we have asked every American to follow federal government guidelines.

Further anti-lockdown rallies are planned, including in Virginia, where the Virginia Citizens Defense League is helping organize a protest outside the state capitol.

On Monday, ABC News reported that Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, and North Carolinas governor, Roy Cooper, had asked Mike Pence to stress the need for social distancing to be observed.

Whitmer reportedly said though people wanted to do the wonderful American tradition of dissent and demonstration its just so dangerous to do that.

Vivian Ho contributed reporting

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