This morning, I woke up, attended multiple Zoom meetings, and ate my lunch from a Styrofoam to-go box. Tonight I plan to go for a walk around my neighborhood. This has been my daily routine since March 30, when Virginia issued its stay-at-home order.
Why do I do this? To prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect health-care professionals from an overflow of coronavirus cases in their hospitals. We stay home because health-care workers are unable to.
Last week, a group of infectious disease experts from the University of Washington wrote an open letter that was signed by 1,288 fellow health professionals. The letter was a plea to state and local governments to “not disband protests under the guise of maintaining public health for COVID-19 restrictions” and to “Support local and state governments in upholding the right to protest and allow protesters to gather.”
According to the authors, the right to protest systemic racism heavily outweighs the health risks of COVID-19. The second paragraph states, “White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19. Black people are twice as likely to be killed by police compared to white people, but the effects of racism are far more pervasive.” The authors did not provide any citations or evidence for this or any of their statistics.
How are these health-care professionals able to condone a mass gathering in nearly every major city across America as citizens remain in lockdown as per their recommendation? Americans have sacrificed their jobs, savings, businesses, and livelihoods in an attempt to keep the health-care community safe.
The letter appears to be making a First Amendment argument when it says, “Support local and state governments in upholding the right to protest and allow protesters to gather.” They are absolutely correct in saying that protesters have the right to voice their grievances peacefully. But if this is a First Amendment argument, shouldn’t places of worship be allowed to operate as well? The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment gives citizens the right to engage in religious rituals. It seems that the authors of this letter are picking and choosing which parts of the Constitution fit their agenda.
How exactly do the authors of this letter propose that protesters gather without endangering public health? With a list of safety tips to protest in a socially distant manner. Sanitizing stations for protesters, chalk marks to signal a six-foot distance between people, and providing face protection to protesters are just a few of their recommendations. Footage from protests illustrates that many of these recommendations have not been taken seriously or implemented at all.
It is worth noting that health experts never made similar suggestions to business owners. If these health professionals can find ways for thousands to protest, why aren’t they proposing ways for citizens to earn a paycheck safely?
Protesters have the right to be upset and to voice their grievances and discuss these issues in a peaceful manner. That is the beauty of free speech. These health-care professionals, however, should be as anxious to condone the right to work and earn a paycheck as they are the right to protest.
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