COVID-19 Cases Continue to Rise as Protesters Plan Rallies to Demand Reopening State

By Jessica Swarner

April 17, 2020

The rallies follow President Trump’s urgings that states should reopen businesses as soon as possible, despite lack of widespread coronavirus testing.

Arizonans who want the state’s economy to reopen no later than May 1 are planning protests next week, calling on the state to refrain from extending the stay-at-home order.

An “Operation Gridlock” protest is planned for Sunday at “high noon” outside of the Capitol.  The “Patriot’s Day Rally” is planned for the following day at the same time and place. A Facebook event for Sunday’s rally asks all participants to stay inside their cars, but advertisements for Monday’s rally don’t specify that people should practice social distancing while protesting.

What The Protesters Want

Supporters of both events accuse Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order (in effect through April 30) of hurting the economy, especially small businesses forced to close or limit operations. More than 345,000 Arizonans have applied for unemployment in the past month. Because of this, the protesters want restrictions lifted as soon as possible. 

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Ducey has said that he has started to have discussions on reopening businesses in Arizona, but he said the state will wait to take those measures until “it’s safe.” He added that the stay-at-home order’s expiration date of April 30 is an “aspirational” goal, and he would extend closures if necessary. 

Ducey hasn’t given specifics on a plan yet, but said one idea is to allow people who have recently tested negative for coronavirus to wear a sticker noting they’re cleared to be in public.

However, members of the protestors’ Facebook groups have criticized this idea, likening it to officials in Nazi Germany asking to see identification they required Jews to carry. 

Who is Behind This?

It’s unclear who exactly is organizing the rallies, but fliers for them have been circulating in Facebook groups and on the Twitter pages of Arizona political candidates. 

One of the Facebook groups, “Great 48!,” has over 11,000 members. Besides promoting the rallies, the group is also planning a “Party in Place” event for May 1, encouraging people to throw parties in their homes, businesses, churches, and parks. Multiple posts in the group discouraged people from seeking coronavirus tests and sowed doubt about the safety of a potential vaccine.

Another group, “Reopen Arizona,” has about 300 members. One of the group’s posts is a link to a podcast with a known white supremacist speaking about the “coronavirus manufactured ‘crisis.’” The group also included posts supporting similar rallies in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Texas. 

U.S. Senate Candidate Daniel McCarthy, who is challenging fellow Republican Sen. Martha McSally in the upcoming primary, is a proponent of reopening the state’s economy by May. The Twitter page for his campaign includes a link to a website that asks people to sign a petition to “stop the shutdown” and sign up for his email list. Local radio host Rob Hunter also started a petition, this one on 

Bill Beard, candidate for Pima County supervisor, and Scott Weinberg, who is running for the Kyrene School Board, are also part of the reopening effort. Weinberg has attacked critics of the rally on his Twitter page, telling one to “go straight to hell.”

When told that he was defying health guidelines and should not take up a hospital bed if he becomes sick, he responded, “If I get sick and require hospitalization I will get a bed because this is America, I have health insurance, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. #OpenAZ.”

U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona has gone so far as to say he thinks the economy should be reopened immediately. 

Trump Pushing for Reopening

Perhaps the most well-known proponent of the economy reopening is President Trump. On Thursday, he announced a three-stage plan for states’ economies reopening.

In phase one, the plan recommends strict social distancing for all people in public. Gatherings larger than 10 people are to be avoided and nonessential travel is discouraged. In phase two, people are encouraged to maximize social distancing and limit gatherings to no more than 50 people unless precautionary measures are taken; travel can resume. Phase three envisions a return to normalcy for most Americans, with a focus on identification and isolation of any new infections.

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Those most susceptible to the respiratory disease are advised to remain sheltered in place until their area enters the final phase — and even then are encouraged to take precautions to avoid close contact with other people.

On Friday, Trump encouraged those who have been protesting stay-at-home orders, urging his supporters on Twitter to “LIBERATE” three states led by Democratic governors.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force, has urged caution before governors reopen states. Fauci told CBS this week that governments need to be able to “test, identify, isolate, get someone who is infected out of circulation, and do a degree of contact tracing” to ensure the safety of residents. 

So far, the U.S. has had difficulty enacting widespread testing and identifying cases. In Arizona, a total of 49,230 people had been tested as of Friday morning – only about 0.7% of the state’s population. There have been 4,507 cases identified in the state and 169 deaths, and the numbers continue to increase each day.

According to a University of Washington model, relaxed social distancing, even when combined with containment strategies, won’t be possible for Arizona until after June 8.

Response to Protest Plans

An organizer of Monday’s rally claims that the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which manages security in the area of the Capitol, has told them the protest is allowed despite the stay-at-home order forbidding gatherings larger than 10 people. DPS did not immediately respond to The Copper Courier’s request for confirmation. 

Annie Degraw, spokeswoman for Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, told The Copper Courier that any planning to reopen the economy should be led by medical experts’ guidance.

“Practicing physical distancing is saving lives in our community and around the world,” Degraw said in a statement. “We ask that residents continue to adhere to the advice of medical experts to help protect public health.”

Nationwide, the majority of Americans are wary of allowing stay-at-home orders to expire so soon. Two in three Americans expressed concerns that restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus would be eased too quickly, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.



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