What to Know About the Protests of Stay-at-Home Orders During the Deadly Coronavirus Pandemic

The anti-governor sentiment at the basis of some protests has been fanned by President Trump himself, who has fought with Democratic state leaders throughout the pandemic: arguing through the media over everything from the amount of medical supplies states actually need to who has the power to end the local shutdowns.

After Trump incorrectly claimed he had the “total” authority to reopen the U.S. economy, he backed down and unveiled a three-phase set of guidelines states could use for reopening when they deemed it was safe.

A day later, on April 17, Trump tweeted a call to “LIBERATE” three states with Democratic governors, including Michigan, while political allies like conservative economist Stephen Moore have called the protestors “the modern-day Rosa Parks.”

Elsewhere, Trump has also praised the protestors, saying earlier this month: “These are great people. … They’ve got cabin fever. They want to get back. They want their life back.” At the same time, he’s expressed displeasure with Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, moving to reopen the state ahead of much of the rest of the country.

The president’s support has given the protests a right-wing twist, though some insist it’s not about politics at all.

“I don’t consider myself a Republican or a Democrat,” McLemore tells PEOPLE. “I’m a constitutionalist, which means I believe in everybody’s rights no matter where you stand. I think everyone has the right to make their own choices for themselves and the government doesn’t need to be there to be our mom and dad.”

In Madison, Wisconsin, the state last week said it was preparing for “thousands” of people to protest Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ shelter-in-place orders while protests have continued in other states like North Carolina.

Evers, like Gov. Whitmer in Michigan, has said he supports citizens exercising their right to protest as long as they do so responsibly and adhere to social distancing recommendations.

Wisconsin capitol police told PEOPLE last week they would be on hand; and the Madison police said they would also be on-call for any assistance.

“At the end of the day, it’s a law enforcement issue and I believe law enforcement will handle it appropriately,” Gov. Evers said.

Some displays have been met with their own counter-protests, including a viral moment in Denver showing two healthcare workers standing in front of protesters in their cars.

Austin police said they issued no citations and made no arrests during the recent protest with Alex Jones.

Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain tells PEOPLE the department has already given out personal protective equipment (PPE) to officers working during the pandemic and they routinely sanitize everything down to the seats in their police cars — the case was no different for last week’s protest, which reportedly drew “a few thousand” attendees.

“This virus is real. We know it is,” McLemore says, telling PEOPLE she believes that she, her husband and her three children all contracted the coronavirus in January and initially supported shutdown efforts before she says they went on too long and started killing “80 percent” of the business in her town.

Her children got so sick in January that McLemore says she needed to put them in the bathroom and “steam them” in order to get them to cough.

“They were having a very hard time breathing, they were crying because their chest hurt so bad,” she says. “All three ended up with double ear infections. They all three ended up with sinus infectious. My youngest, actually, started coughing up blood.”

McLemore herself woke up crying on Jan. 31 because her chest hurt so bad, she says.

“I thought, Oh my god, this is the worst cold I’ve ever had in my life,” she remembers. “Trust me, I know this is real. But at what point do we say shutting down the economy is a better decision than letting people chose for themselves to be out and about?”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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