By Celica Cook and Kendra Sommers

Crowds gathered in Harrisburg to protest the COVID-19 state-wide shutdown on April 20, 2020. The Reopen PA Rally, centering on the footsteps of the capitol, included a gridlock of cars on the surrounding areas.

CNN reported thousands of people showing up to the Reopen PA Rally as a result of Governor Wolf extending the “Stay-at-Home” order to May 8, 2020. Individuals showed up on foot and by car for the protest outside the capital complex. Gridlocks were created with cars on the surrounding roads, blocking all forms of traffic.


The protestors gathered to demand that Gov. Wolf re-open the state’s economy. With social-distancing mandates still in place, health officials say that it is too soon to reopen, but many small businesses are suffering as a result of the economic closure.


Non-essential businesses such as gyms, theaters, salons and sports venues were ordered to be shut down in continuous efforts to stop the spread of the virus.


“This isn’t a decision I take lightly at all,” Wolf said at a live press conference in March, 2020. “It’s one that I’m making because medical experts believe it is the only way to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients.”


The protesters made several arguments against the current shut down. Many believe that an economic shutdown can be more fatal than the virus itself, leaving small business owners and employees left with nothing to fall back on. Some argue that the virus coverage has been exaggerated, and shutting down was unnecessary.


Health experts told ABC News otherwise, saying that social-distancing is the best way we can contain the virus as of now. The lack of testing kits have made it hard for the reopening process to begin.


“You can’t call off the best weapon we have, which is social isolation, even out of economic desperation, unless you’re willing to be responsible for a mountain of deaths,” Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at NYU Langone Medical Center said to the New York Times.


Economic experts say that reopening the economy is not that simple, and it will take time to rebuild it again. Different states will have to rebuild at different rates depending on when and how hard the virus hit them. If businesses reopen too quickly, the healthcare system may be too overwhelmed.


“There is a way to think through how and when to reopen the economy and society, and it’s important to get this right,” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a former Director of the CDC said to the New York Times.


The goal of the rally, however, remained unclear amidst the sense of disunity and lack of organization. Several individuals used this rally to call for “economic reopening,” while others protested various other agendas.


Social distancing was not being practiced, nor were all the protestors wearing masks, both recommendations by the CDC and Gov. Wolf.


Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine has said, “Staying home is the most effective way to protect yourself and others against COVID-19. But if you must go out because you are out of food or medication, then wearing a mask or even a bandana across your nose and mouth could be an extra layer of protection.”

Other perspectives present at the Harrisburg rally, included that of Erica Zimmerman, a local nurse. Zimmerman told the York Daily Record, “We can’t afford a surge. I’m all for reopening the economy, but we need to do it really slowly.”


More ICU workers counter-protested, Katrina Rectenwald holding a sign that said, “I don’t want you in my ICU … Stay Home!”


A lot of issues that arose from this protest were not necessarily linked to their overall agenda, but rather the unsafe means they used to voice their opinions. Individuals showed up with guns and weapons, signs were disconnected and lacked direction, and people were not standing the suggested six feet apart or wearing masks, increasing their odds of contracting or passing COVID-19 to one another.


Philadelphia’s U.S. Congressman Brendan Boyle stated, “If you have just one infected person and they’re in close proximity to a couple hundred others, now suddenly we spread coronavirus preety exponentially by that one person being in a large group. So, these protests are dumb. They achieve nothing and in fact, they make it dangerous.”


Not only is it dangerous, it’s unproductive. The protest becomes meaningless when participants are using the platform to push varying agendas that are separate from the initial intent for economic reopening. It incites a feeling of disorganization and disunity that doesn’t bring awareness to the original message.


There are varying views on how or when the economy and non-essential businesses should open back up, but the effects on small businesses should not be ignored.


“About four million businesses [in America] have already applied for more than $380 billion in EIDL [Economic Injury Disaster Loan] funds, yet Congress only allocated about $17 billion for the program,” CNBC reported.


However, Congress’s lack of prioritizing funds for small businesses is not solely the center of these protests. Like several other protests that have occurred all over the country, people seem more concerned with their own political agendas and a desire to have the “freedom” to do whatever they want, even if it’s dangerous and could exponentially spread COVID-19.


There is discussion, however, that Congress and the White House are “reportedly nearing a deal to inject an additional $370 billion into loan programs for small businesses, including the PPP and the EIDL program.”


Though the intentions behind these rallies might mean well, small businesses aren’t the only people in danger. More people are at risk of becoming COVID-19 carriers if Pennsylvania were to re-open the economy. While carriers might not show symptoms, they can infect people at risk without meaning to. There is also no guarantee that lifting the “Stay-at-Home” order will result in customers for small businesses, nor keep COVID-19 cases at bay.


Instead of remaining dangerous and unproductive, perhaps these rallies should remain safe and push for faster legislation that provides social safety nets for all individuals and the many ways people have been impacted by COVID-19.


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