DENVER (CN) — Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver on Friday in defiance of the state’s orders enforcing social distancing to slow the spread of Covid-19.
School age kids lounged on picnic blankets, dogs panted and in the center of the green, a large “Trump 2020” flag fell limp in the heat.
“We’re a bunch of Coloradans exercising our right to assemble for free speech,” said John Attwood of Monument, Colorado, a town 50 miles south of Denver. Attwood wore cutoff sleeves and held a white sign crossing out the word “communism.” He said he previously lived in Kazakhstan and China and fears watching the U.S. succumb to something like Bolshevism.
“When you’ve lived in a communist country like I have, you know what the signs are and I think we’re seeing the signs now with all of these takeovers,” Attwood said. “Many of my relatives have fought in Vietnam against communism, so if they spilled their blood then I can get out here and get sunburned.”
Attwood is part of a growing minority of Americans frustrated by the nation’s response to Covid-19 and worried that the economic costs of social distancing outweigh the public health benefits.
According to an April 16 poll by the Pew Research Center, about 66% of Americans worry states will relax social distancing restrictions too soon, including about 51% of Republicans and 81% of Democrats.
As of 4 p.m. on May 1, Colorado health officials reported 15,768 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 2,747 hospitalizations and 820 deaths.
On Monday, the Centennial State moved from stay-at-home to a safe-at-home order, allowing certain nonessential businesses like hair salons and tattoo parlors to begin reopening. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis described the shift as new skiers moving from the bunny slope to a green trail. Some counties including Denver extended the stricter measures through mid-May, however.
While protesters held their homemade signs before Broadway, Polis addressed the state over the airwaves in a remote press conference. He highlighted temporary relief for residents at risk of evictions while courts hold off on processing new complaints that would remove people from their homes. Polis also lauded the sourcing of additional test kits and personal protective equipment which will be needed to ease restrictions on the state economy.
While some supporters see Polis’ measured step as a move in the right direction, others are anxious to return to work in the state which saw 317,583 initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits over the last five weeks. The state Department of Labor reported granting 75% of applications. At least 5% of the state’s 5.75 million people are out of work.
“I’m tired of being at home, I’m tired of the economic downturn,” said Rachel from Colorado Springs, who did not want her last name printed, as she bounced her 4-month-old son Gabriel in the shade of a large tree. Her husband owns a cabinet refinishing business but is unable to find work because would-be customers don’t have the budget and don’t want him in their home.
Rachel had a sign that said “Facts over fear.” Over the sound of Harleys revving down the main street in support, she said, “The idea that we can stay home just to avoid a virus is really silly. I think the facts are out, that it’s not as deadly as they thought it was. I think it’s time for Polis to take a slice of humble pie and say we overreacted.”
Not all opinions fall for or against pandemic protections. Across the street, a lone woman held a large sign that said “LOVE.”
“I’m out here because I think you can have all the facts and truth and scientific background, but if you don’t have love you’re like a clanging gong, you’re like a car alarm,” said Taylor Mann. “I think that what we need is that kind of love, and I know love is portrayed in a bunch of different ways in different religions and movies and things like that, but just yelling and screaming at each other doesn’t do anything. Love is what moves mountains, love is what changes people’s hearts.”