Anti-lockdown protests have grabbed headlines, but polls indicate they represent a small section of the population. Liam Glen writes on why policymakers should not endanger public health by bowing to their demands.
In red and blue states alike, protesters are defying social distancing guidelines to demonstrate against government-imposed restrictions prompted by COVID-19 and demand that their states “reopen the economy.”
On the surface, this would indicate that there is widespread discontent against the lockdown. People around the country are being deprived of their livelihood, and they think it is a better bet to brave the virus than deal with economic restrictions.
In reality, these protesters represent a vocal minority of the population. And while some are primarily concerned by their own livelihoods, the political undertones are difficult to miss. Trump campaign memorabilia is abundant at the demonstrations, along with more fringe elements like the anti-vaccine movement.
Given that the goals of these protests fly in the face of public health experts’ warnings, it would be a dangerous mistake for state governments to cave in and prematurely end restrictions.
Loud but Small
While these protests have done a good job at making headlines, polls indicate that most Americans – including a plurality of Republicans – oppose them. In fact, a majority say that they would stay home as much as possible even if government restrictions were lifted.
Considering the unpopularity of their cause, the protests have carried out a very smart strategy. By coordinating efforts and showing up in state capitals across the country, they have attracted national media attention. While they are arguably smaller and less well-organized than previous movements like the Tea Party, they have still managed to shape public conversation around the issue.
This is possible because these are hardly spontaneous, grassroots protests. They are organized and funded in part by major conservative groups like FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots. Political operatives affiliated with President Trump’s reelection campaign have helped coordinate them, and the president himself has expressed support.
All of this has worked to make the demonstrations seem larger and more important than they actually are. Of course, many protest movements rely on external support and media tricks to help achieve the goal, but considering the consequences of ending social restrictions this early, the anti-lockdown movement is particularly worrisome.
Rejecting the Science of Disease
The anti-lockdown demonstrations have become a magnet for fringe beliefs, but the center may be a refusal to acknowledge how infectious disease work. Protesters believe they have a right to go about their daily lives, even if it increases their risk of catching COVID-19, and anyone with different priorities has a right to simply stay at home.
But diseases are not so simple. One careless person who goes into a situation where they can get infected could easily spread it to someone else who is trying their hardest to avoid it. The only responsible option is for everyone to stay home as much as possible.
Of course, this option is financially harmful. But there is reason to believe that the economic effect of reopening the country would hardly be better. The goal of the lockdown is to contain the virus as quickly as possible, so that normal economic activity can hopefully recommence without creating another giant spike in cases.
Easing restrictions prematurely would mean that the outbreak lasts longer and infects more people, which would not only result in more death but also prolong the amount of time that the virus is impacting the economy.
In fact, there is evidence that during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, US cities that implemented earlier and stricter regulations were better able to economically recover.
Public health experts are the best-equipped to make these decisions, and they are alarmed by moves from states like Georgia to start easing restrictions before they are ready, inspired in part by the ongoing protests.
It is unlikely to view such a thing as anything other than a mistake. If a large majority of the population truly desired to lift restrictions, then it would be unfortunate but understandable that politicians would acquiesce. But when both public health experts and most of the American public believe that the shutdown must continue, it is folly to go against them.