The kinds of demonstrations against lockdown orders that popped up in Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio this past week are coming to Missouri.
As of midday Sunday, one Facebook event for a Tuesday rally at the Capitol in Jefferson City had more than 270 people saying they were going and 1,100 people saying they were interested.
Another called "Rally to End the Stay" had 113 people going and 430 interested.
Similar events were in the works for Kansas City and St. Louis County, and all of them appeared to be efforts to push back against "stay-at-home" orders issued in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
A counter-effort for an online rally via Facebook, organized by 2018 Democratic congressional candidate Renee Hoagenson, had 33 people who said they would participate and 60 interested.
The Missourians for a Safe Economic Recovery rally will demand that testing on a much wider scale be implemented before restrictions are eased.
Objections to the orders, which politicians and public health experts have credited with slowing the spread of the virus, ran the gamut on social media.
A handful saw the lockdowns as the result of conspiracies involving the likes of billionaire Bill Gates or the financier and liberal boogeyman George Soros, but many others expressed more concrete concerns about the orders’ effects on businesses and their employees.
Many larger metro areas, including Springfield, have required "non-essential" businesses like barbershops and clothing stores to close, while limiting restaurants and bars to carryout and delivery orders, creating deep cuts in revenue.
Others felt the orders were overreaching on civil liberties.
Josh Schisler, a former registered lobbyist for conservative causes who is organizing what appears to be one of the larger Capitol rallies, said the orders are actually hurting those most vulnerable to the virus.
With so many at home using delivery services, there aren’t enough people to deliver food and other essentials to older people and others with underlying medical conditions, he said.
Schisler said he saw the issue firsthand when he traveled to hard-hit New York City to volunteer at a homeless shelter.
"There’s nobody working to meet the needs that need to be met," he said.
His solution is to release younger, healthy people from the orders while keeping those more vulnerable hunkered down, and he said he expected at least 1,000 people on Capitol grounds pushing for a new approach.
Planning for the protests comes as officials across the state are grappling with how and when to reopen society with the spread of the virus appearing to slow.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday he would continue to require social distancing statewide until May 3, a week beyond his order’s original expiration date.
Leaders in St. Louis, St. Louis County and Kansas City extended stricter orders into mid-May.
In his announcement Thursday, Parson also promised to spend the next two weeks preparing "to reopen the economy and get Missourians back to work."
He also addressed the protests without much concern.
"If they want to come to the Capitol and they want to protest, and they abide by the (social distancing) orders, that’s fine," Parson said Thursday. "They have every right to do that."
It’s not clear what the protests will mean for policymaking, though.
President Donald Trump has cheered the protests, encouraging people to "LIBERATE MICHIGAN," "LIBERATE MINNESOTA," and "LIBERATE VIRGINIA" in tweets Friday morning, but governors hold the actual power to decide how their states re-open.
Parson for his part, said Thursday reopening will be gradual process and that social distancing would still be required in some form after May 3.
His comments illustrated the narrow line officials everywhere are trying to walk in the coming weeks and months.
It’s no secret the economy has been devastated by the virus and resulting shutdowns.
More people filed initial claims for unemployment benefits in Missouri in the past two weeks than did in all of 2019. The Census Bureau reported this week that March retail sales fell 8.7 percent from the previous month, the largest month-to-month decline in nearly three decades of recorded data.
But public health officials have warned that reopening businesses too early could lead to a second, self-inflicted spike in infections and force yet another round of restrictions.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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