APTOPIX Virus Outbreak Michigan
Dawn Perreca protests on the front steps of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Flag-waving, honking protesters drove past the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday to show their displeasure with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's orders to keep people at home and businesses locked during the new coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“Operation Gridlock” disregarded necessary safety protocols in an appalling manner.

Freedom of speech is one of our country’s greatest assets. As a resident of Michigan, I wasn’t surprised by the “Free the State” protest last week. But I was appalled by what I saw occurring during the conservative demonstrators’ “Operation Gridlock.”

Hundreds of opponents of Michigan’s statewide “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order protested arm-in-arm. They were filmed congregating in tight groups and handing out candy to children with bare hands. Few of them wore protective masks and even fewer abided by the six-foot social distancing rule. Nazi symbols and other racially defamatory signs and messages were openly displayed. Some even brandished weapons like semiautomatic rifles. The long caravan obstructed the main intersection of a level 1 trauma center, blocking ambulances and health care workers from entering.

What prompted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s strong position was the perilous situation in the state. The governor’s primary responsibility is to keep citizens safe and protect human lives. She is dealing with a difficult to control pandemic. By limiting outdoor activities she attempted to curb the spread of the virus.

The state has been disproportionally devastated by the coronavirus. As of Monday, Michigan had the 4th highest number of confirmed cases, even though it ranks 10th in U.S. population. It has exceeded 31,000 confirmed cases and has accumulated more than 2,300 deaths. Its death rate per capita is one of the highest, and there have not been a great number of tests performed.

Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of the protest was when the president said, “They seem to be very responsible people to me,” and tweeted “Liberate Michigan.” These responses encourage a Charlottesville-like behavior. Valid scientific, medical and public health advice should be our focus instead. By encouraging people to come out prematurely he is potentially putting the entire state in danger.

If the demonstrators were responsible, they would have abided by the governor’s statewide edict that was intended to protect everyone. If anything, they acted irresponsibly by disregarding the mitigation rules! By congregating in a close-knit mass, theoretically they were contaminating each other — and perpetuating the pandemic. The way the protest was carried out endangered lives, because this is precisely how COVID-19 spreads. Their actions will only extend the time until all of us can safely return to work.

My heart goes out to the many small business owners who have lost everything and may never recover. And what about the millions of jobless workers? I can appreciate that everyone wants to return to work so that our economy can be restarted. But if you become ill or die, you can’t help your family.

I want the president to be successful. But to achieve that outcome safely, we need to unify the nation. There should be adequate testing for the virus, and we must listen to and follow the prudent advice of the experts.

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