After more than a week of similar rallies across the country, small groups of Oregonians are planning to hold demonstrations to reopen the state on Saturday in Salem and Burns.
On Thursday, armed protesters stormed the Michigan state Capitol and hovered in the balconies, yelling at lawmakers as they voted to curb the governor’s emergency declaration. Some lawmakers, fearing for their safety, wore body armor.
The rallies have been advertised as grassroots movements but it’s been revealed that many have links to gun rights groups, the Republican Party, and members of the Trump administration and campaign. An April 15 rally in Michigan was sponsored by an organization funded by the family of Betsy Devos, the secretary of education.
A Facebook page for Saturday’s rally in Salem and pages for people affiliated with the group peddle fringe interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. Many are also anti-vaccination.
"Do we want to just go back to normal? No, I don't think that would be a good idea until we do know more about what's going on," said Salem rally organizer Adam Ellifrit in an interview with KDRV. "Do I think businesses like restaurants could open up with 50% capacity and social distancing guidelines? I do, actually."
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown laid out a plan Friday that would allow some regions of the state to reopen as soon as May 15.
Portland-based DHM Research said an April 17-21 survey of 900 Oregonians showed 82% support of restrictions that have helped flatten the disease curve in the state. Just 16% of Oregonians said they opposed the orders. The question had a margin of error of +/- 3.3%.
Asked about Saturday’s rally, Brown said she knows Oregonians are frustrated and scared.
“I know folks are worried about how they’re going to pay their rent, put food on the table and buy essentials for their families,” Brown said. “I just would ask folks as they operate their First Amendment right to free speech to maintain social distancing, wear masks and be considerate of others."
Medical experts agree that there will have to be a gradual phase out of the stay-at-home orders and closures.
“When a modifying factor is put in place such as the stay at home order or any of the other orders that you're seeing, it actually takes three weeks before we see the effect of that order and understand what that did to the infection rate and the hospitalization rate,” said Oregon Health & Science University chief medical officer Dr. Renee Edwards. “So just like there was a phasing in of the restrictions, there will need to be a phasing out of the restrictions.”
But Edwards said if restrictions are lifted before a robust testing and contact tracing system is in place then they won’t be able to detect a surge in cases until people are being hospitalized. And by then, it might be too late to avoid worst-case scenarios.