About two dozen people who held signs along North Center Street on Thursday didn’t doubt the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they didn’t want to be told how to behave to control it, either.
“I totally believe it’s every individual’s right to decide what’s best for them,” said Cathy Ide of the Wyoming Campaign for Liberty that organized the protest at Pioneer Park.
Ide declined to answer whether it was the right of an infected person to infect someone else, she said.
“I have the right to govern myself; that’s the right that I have,” Ide said. “I can stay at home and self-isolate; I can wear a mask; or I can choose to work.”
The spread of the novel coronavirus isn’t an all-or-nothing situation, Ide said. “We can still have people working and saving lives, it’s not an either-or decision.”
Ide and several others at the protest said they weren’t scientists; rather, their interest was political.
On Friday, Gov. Mark Gordon extended previous public health orders to April 30 about closing public places including schools; prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people; closing bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and some personal services businesses. Restaurants can provide delivery and curbside services.
Gordon also directed people coming to Wyoming or from another country for a non-work-related purpose to immediately self-quarantine for 14 days.
State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist has said the community spread of COVID-19 continues and that social distancing remains the best way to slow the virus’s spread. “Anyone can spread this disease, even if they don’t yet realize they are ill.”
Gordon, unlike many other governors, has not issued a mandatory shelter-in-place order.
Two weeks ago, Natrona County Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell told the Natrona County School District board of trustees that relaxing social distancing measures too early would be disastrous: “There’s isn’t anybody in the epidemiology world or in infectious diseases that is suggesting that we’re anywhere loosening anything up in the near future. That would be disastrous to not follow that curve very carefully and err on the cautious side and then find out that we loosened stuff too soon and we have a lot of bad disease occur.”
At the protest, Bob Ide cited one of the United States’s founding fathers who said, “‘those who would give up a little essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.’ That’s effectively what we’re here for.”
Ide said he would like to see the bans on social gatherings and on businesses lifted despite the infections and illnesses.
“We sympathize with the risks of what’s going on with the virus and we’re sensitive to that but in the end it’s really the people’s decision,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of people suffering right now with loss of jobs, restaurants are just getting steamrolled by what’s going on.”
The press has promoted a lot of fear and hysteria, and the data and models have not proven accurate. People don’t have a say in what’s happening and there are a lot of edicts coming out, he said.
If people believe social distancing is important, they can self-quarantine, Ide added.
Former Casper City Council member Todd Murphy held a sign saying “Right to Work – Back to Work.”
Most businesses could resume operations and still maintain social distancing, Murphy said.
“The government telling us what to do is not the way I would want to go, because people need to make their decisions,” he said.
Murphy, who emphasized he didn’t want to make this sound horrible, was concerned that the strong social-distancing measures and the resulting damage to the economy could be worse that the loss of people to COVID-19.
“If this goes on too long, we might not like what we have when we do get to go back out,” he said. “The lives we save might not be worth it, because out of 330-350 million people in our country, sometimes there has to be more loss to get to where you want to go.”
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