Several hundred people gathered in front of the Missouri State Capitol while a steady stream of cars passed by in a circle, honking and blaring songs with protest themes.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) — Echoing cries from across the country, protesters gathered at the Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday demanding an end to Governor Mike Parson’s stay-at-home order aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
The group Reopen Missouri, led by former Republican state legislator Josh Schisler, organized the event that drew several hundred people to the steps of the capitol building. According to a Facebook post about the event, protestors believe stay-at-home orders in response to the Covid-19 pandemic are “inhumane.”
Protesters at the event came for several reasons.
“We have .02 deaths in Missouri for every hundred thousand people in Missouri,” said Kristi Nichols, who organized a similar protest in Kansas City on Monday. “That doesn’t warrant shutting down the city, shutting down the nation. Viruses are out there every day. This is nothing.”
She continued, “We didn’t shut down the economy or the United States because of the flu. So why is this different? This is different because there’s an agenda behind it. There’s an agenda to destroy people’s lives to put them in bondage to take away their livelihood, their rights and their freedoms.”
Nichols said the lockdown orders are similar to tactics she witnessed by China’s communist regime to take away people’s livelihoods while she worked with an underground church in that country for eight years.
“Our founding fathers gave their lives and their honor and shed their blood for us to have this freedom and liberty, and we are not going to let the government or any social agenda, or any World Health Organization with false data take that away,” Nichols said.
Brett Stevenson of Independence, Mo., said economic and religious concerns were the main reason he was there.
“Every day they go knocking out small businesses and people losing their jobs and so you know the slogan ‘the cure is going to be worse than the Covid-19,’” Stevenson said, “I think that’s a true statement.”
Stevenson, the pastor of a Christian church of about 50 people, is also concerned with the religious freedom for the people he serves. His church has gone to an online video feed, as have most churches, but he said it falls short of fully practicing the Christian faith.
“There are things that you cannot do obviously, unless you’re in person,” Stevenson said. “Like partaking of the sacrament, which is a very important part for us, and so it’s not the same and people just feel like their rights are being trampled.”
Several hundred people gathered in front of the Missouri State Capitol while a steady stream of cars passed by in a circle, honking their horns and blaring songs with protest themes from groups such as Twister Sister, Toby Keith and Bruce Springsteen.
The crowd marched to the governor’s mansion, where they chanted “USA!” for several minutes. Protesters then marched away and gradually disbursed while dozens sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Schisler called the gathering a success and said he was told there were over a thousand attendees at the hour-long event once people in the cars were counted. He said he was surprised at the bipartisan support for the cause.
“This is not an issue of ‘I’m a Democrat or Republican,’” Schisler said. “We’re all Missourians. We’re all Americans. And we’re sick and tired of the governor taking irresponsible actions that are putting the most vulnerable Missourians at risk.”
Though Schisler pointed to a diverse spectrum of political ideals among attendees, the abundance of Trump apparel worn and displayed during the event pointed to the political leanings for a large percentage of the protesters.
Schisler said in an interview that his views on stay-at-home orders changed after spending a week in New York City during the apex of the coronavirus outbreak there. He said he delivered disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and masks to New York Presbyterian Hospital and fed the homeless and gave them hand sanitizer.
Schisler said the experience proved to him that lockdowns are ineffective. He believes most able-bodied people are at home using delivery services, which forces society’s most vulnerable out to buy essentials such as food.
“We want to do this in a proper manner,” he said in an interview. “I think that the whole goal of the lockdown was to prevent the hospitals from being overloaded with people and that mission has been accomplished. There’s not a single expert out there who believes that we’re still at risk for overloading the hospitals.”
Schisler believes the goal of flattening the curve has been achieved and now is the time to refocus efforts.
He said people over 70 and those with underlying health conditions should remain in lockdown while people with relatively low risk go back to work to support and assist the most vulnerable.
“I think the public as a whole is getting a better handle for who is at risk for this disease and the people who are at very low risk are ready to be brave and get out,” Schisler said. “I think they understand that we’re fortunate to be in the position that we are, and we have an obligation to cater to the needs of those who are actually at risk from this disease.”
Schisler is critical of Governor Parson, a fellow Republican.
“He’s shown no leadership throughout this entire thing,” Schisler said. “He bends with the wind. He sticks his finger in the air. I mean, why did he extend the lockdown and then he puts out the malarkey pretending that, ‘oh no, we’re actually getting ready to start back up?’ That makes no sense.”
While projections of the estimated amount of people affected by Covid-19 are falling, cases in Missouri continue to rise. On Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases statewide surged to 6,083 with a death toll of 222, up from 5,889 cases and 200 deaths on Monday. The vast majority of cases are in the St. Louis region, according to The Guardian.
Many in the scientific community believe now is not the time to relax social-distancing guidelines.
Edward Belter, who works with the genome sequencing project at Washington University in St. Louis, said it was expected that “we would be successful and people would say its fine.”
“In reality we just prevented a disaster,” he said. “It’s certainly a frustrating place to be in, but the reality is if we go back to mostly normal things, it will continue to spread and possibly overwhelm the hospitals.”
Belter believes better testing is needed before a full reopening can occur.
One hope is antibody testing, which Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force, said could be available in as soon as a couple of weeks. Unlike current testing, which only measures if a patient currently has the virus, the antibody testing would show if a patient had the virus previously and had recovered.
“We’ve had multiple issues with the test, one of which is availability,” Belter said. “If this [antibody] test is available, you can get a hall pass, for lack of a better word, to be able to go back into the world and theoretically not worry about getting the virus.”
Despite the continued increase in cases, Parson is optimistic that parts of the state will be able to reopen when his stay-at-home order ends on May 4.
“We’re seeing signs in the data that Missouri is slowing the course of Covid-19,” the governor said on Monday. “On Saturday I spoke with the infectious disease doctors from across the state and the common theme is that we are seeing stabilization in the health care system. This is very encouraging news and we will continue to be data-driven in our approach. We are cautiously optimistic that we are beginning to stabilize, and we are preparing to reopen Missouri for business.”