Hundreds of people gathered outside of the Colorado Capitol on Sunday afternoon in protest of the state’s stay-at-home order aimed at preventing the new coronavirus from spreading out of control.
Streets around the building in downtown Denver were clogged with vehicles, many of them with American flags attached and passengers hanging out of windows waving signs. Drivers were honking in support of people packed tightly together on sidewalks.
Lance Painter of Greeley was among the demonstrators. He’s a self-employed gem appraiser and has been struggling to make money during the crisis. Painter said he wanted to send a message to the government by protesting on Sunday.
“I feel that it’s an overreaction,” he said, “statistically, mathematically. Studies have been done. Perception is incorrect. COVID-19 kills far less people than the regular flu does. And those are just the facts.”
Experts say COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is far more lethal than seasonal influenza. There’s also no drug proven to treat the coronavirus, as well as no known vaccine, while there are both for the flu.
“There’s no work,” Painter said. “I have a mortgage to pay. I have child support payments to pay. This can’t go on forever.”
Lois Helvie of Byers was another demonstrator attending Sunday’s rally. She was wearing a T-shirt that said “I STAND FOR THE FLAG.”
“I care about the world my grandkids are going to have,” she said, pulling down a red mask, with the words “MAKE AMERICA WELL AGAIN” printed on it, to speak to a reporter.
Helvie said liberty is at risk when someone can order people to stay in their homes. She said she wasn’t worried at all about the virus, comparing it to the flu.
In attendance at the rally was House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Castle Rock Republican who has been critical of the restrictions put in place by Gov. Jared Polis in response to the coronavirus epidemic.
Among the messages on signs being waved by rally attendees were:
- Reopen Colorado
- Shutdown the shutdown
- Save our state
- Our right to peacefully assemble is protected by the First Amendment
- Free Colorado
At one point, a man riding a horse and carrying an American flag made his way down the street.
Photos and video taken a few blocks from the Capitol, near the intersection of East 12th Avenue and Grant Street, showed men and women wearing surgical scrubs and face masks standing in the crosswalks and staring down protesters driving past, some of whom screamed at them.
Many of the demonstrators were not wearing masks. Polis earlier this month recommended that people wear cloth face covering when they are in public. The protesters also were not, for the most part, distancing themselves from each other.
“Those participating are only endangering themselves and others by ignoring the stay-at-home order, and we urge them to stay home,” Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Polis, said in a written statement. “No one wants to reopen Colorado businesses and lift these restrictions more than the governor, but in order to do that, Coloradans have to stay home as much as possible, except for critical activities, wear masks and wash their hands to slow the spread of this virus.”
The coronavirus has killed more than 400 people in Colorado. There were more than 4,400 confirmed cases of the disease through Sunday.
Polis’ statewide stay-at-home order is in effect until April 26.
Law enforcement was monitoring the protest in Denver, but other than closing down some roads and helping direct traffic they were not interfering with the demonstration.
Similar protests against restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus occurred elsewhere in the nation this weekend. Most focused on the painful economic impacts of the shutdown of businesses deemed nonessential by the government.
Saturday In Grand Junction, cars and motorcycles flooded North Avenue, cruising the city’s main drag flying American and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags to protest what they said is the tyrannical shutdown of businesses in their communities.
In downtown Montrose on Saturday, a few dozen people gathered at the intersection of East Main Street and Townsend Avenue near Demoret Park, where cars cruised past protesters standing on the sidewalk, some holding upside down American flags, a symbol of extreme distress.
Colorado’s unemployment rate hit 4.5% in March. The rate was calculated based on the pay period that includes the second week of the month and likely doesn’t account for many of job losses blamed on coronavirus-related shutdowns which began on March 14.
Since March 15, some 231,610 out-of-work Coloradans have filed for unemployment benefits. And the numbers are expected to continue to climb.
Updated at 4:18 p.m. on April 19, 2020: This story has been updated to correct the phrase written on Lois Helvie’s mask. It said “MAKE AMERICA WELL AGAIN.”