April 20, 2020

This Is What Nurses Are Saying About The Anti-Lockdown Protests

This Is What Nurses Are Saying About The Anti-Lockdown Protests

How do nurses feel about protests against state stay-at-home orders? Viral photos only tell half the story. 

As uncertainties and anxieties over COVID-19 continue to rise, tensions over government-imposed state shutdown restrictions have also swelled. And in some states, such as Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Minnesota, Kentucky and Utah, those tensions have boiled over into physical protests. 

Protesters have gone to state capitals and their governors’ mansions for a variety of issues that include beliefs that the governors have violated constitutional rights in issuing executive stay-at-home orders to arguing that businesses should be reopened to pushing for regional, rather than statewide, restrictions to questioning parts of the orders, such as classifying selling plants as non-essential. 

The national spotlight has turned to look forward to when states can begin opening up, but as the country wonders when they can be free to visit loved ones and be allowed to work non-essential jobs again, nurses stand at a unique crosspoint during this pandemic. 

Youtube video

Reasons For Protests Across the Country

According to a local news station, residents in Ohio cited their reasons for protesting as concerns over the loss of small businesses as a result of the shutdowns and the belief that the government does not have the right to shut down schools, places of worship, businesses and other public places, nor tell them that they are not allowed to leave their homes.

Reports from North Carolina echoed Ohio, with protesters supporting a Facebook group called “ReopenNC” that organized the protests. And in Michigan, thousands traveled to the state’s capital in a protest called “Operation Gridlock,” organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, largely protesting from a long line of cars, with a handful of participants defying the group’s request to remain in their vehicles by assembling on the capital’s steps.

The protests--which have largely been reported as peaceful--were organized around a common theme: that the state governors have violated the constitution by issuing executive shut-down orders, and that the people should be able to decide how to best protect themselves, not the state. 

“Quarantine is when you restrict the movement of sick people. Tyranny is when you restrict the movement of healthy people,” Meshawn Maddock, an organizer of the Michigan protest said in an interview with Fox News. 

Here’s What Nurses Say About The Protests

As Nurse.org shared at the beginning of the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic, the #StayHome movement had two important missions: 

  1. To protect not only the most vulnerable in society
  2. To help flatten the curve so as not to overwhelm hospitals and healthcare workers with a large number of people getting sick all at once. 

But as the stay-at-home orders are being questioned, with protesters arguing that they have the right not to stay home, nurses stand at a unique position in the middle of “both” sides. And in some cases, nurses are taking a stand--quite literally. On Sunday, in Denver, Co., pictures captured by photojournalist Alyson McClaran depict off-shift nurses standing silently to block cars filled with protesters in their own counter-protest.

Tim LaGasse, a nurse practitioner in Petoskey, Michigan, tells Nurse.org that while he does not agree with some of the restrictions Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer has put into place--such as a restriction on motorized boating--he believes that the state’s executive orders are for the “greater good” of the population. 

“Bottom line, this is deadly and active social distancing WILL and is making a difference,” LaGasse says. “People die and decompensate quickly. Healthy young people. Are dying. I do disagree with the extent of no boating when you are just with your family; however, people won’t listen.”

According to LaGasse, the unknowns of this virus throw a lot of challenges about how to best handle the pandemic. “There are so many true unknowns regarding spread, mutations, and treatment that it is the best guess right now in how to treat,” he adds. “What works for one doesn’t work for the next and a family ensures further loss. Is this real? Yes. Is it scary? Yes, I fear for me and my family every day I go to work for potential exposure. Is it inconvenient? Yes. We must believe that the tireless work and impositions now is really for the greater good of the entire population.”

Nurse Tracy, who, according to her Facebook post, is an ICU nurse in Detroit, wrote that while she believes others “have the right” to protest, she is disheartened by her view that the actions of those protesting are affecting the personal lives of healthcare workers. 

“You have the right to believe what you want,” she wrote. “Plant your garden, paint your house, go on your boats. I am upset by your posts...You see as a healthcare provider, we do not have the luxury of refusing the care we have to provide to anyone. Not even in the midst of this pandemic. Our governor placed the ‘Stay Home’ order for a reason in attempts to control this virus and not overload those of us working so hard to win this fight. Like it or not, it needs to be respected. From that day forward any poor decisions made may risk the lives of your coworkers, friends, family as well as myself.”

“I know your life has changed,” she went on to add. “So has mine.”

Differing Perspectives Between Nurses

Other nurses have shared their thoughts and feelings from a different perspective, such as Maggie Cleary, a nurse in Detroit, who penned a Facebook post urging her fellow healthcare workers to not make “this us vs. them.”

“We are naive if we think that we are the only ones capable of understanding the risks!” she wrote. “People know the risks of this disease, they know the contagion, and they are willing to take those risks because not being able to support themselves or a family is scary too!!!...no one is stopping you from quitting your job during this crazy time, but perhaps the only thing scarier than going to work everyday and potentially contracting Covid 19 would be sitting at home knowing you have no paycheck or money coming in to pay bills and feed your family!”

“The fear is balancing out here,” she added. “The fear of not being able to support their families and pay bills vs. the fear of contracting a disease that is no doubt deadly but 98% are recovering from.”  

According to her Facebook post--a letter to Whitmer, now shared over 8K times--emergency Nurse Practitioner Maggie Klenner is frustrated with what she calls a lack of transparency from her governor. 

“I have to stand up for myself, my coworkers, my fellow healthcare workers,” she wrote. “I have to stand up for my family and for the other Michiganders in our great state struggling to get by. This is where I can no longer stay quiet. It is time for those of us who hold and fight the line, to help make decisions.”  

What the Future Will Hold

With clear divisions, even among healthcare workers, on how to best handle the pandemic, it’s unclear what the future holds as states begin the slow process of unveiling plans to reopen their respective economies. 

Public health officials are balancing decisions on how to minimize the risk of a resurgence with the risks of the economic, societal, and other repercussions of extending a shutdown. And nurses may remain cautiously watchful about seeing a new surge of COVID-19 patients once again. “The next issue becomes if we can contain it and flatten the curve when we lift restrictions will it prevent a huge influx of new cases, which [I] believe will happen,” LaGasse says.

But no matter what happens, Kelsea Renee, currently an ICU nurse in Michigan, hopes that the pandemic--among protests and fear and unknowns--changes us all for the better. 

“Hopefully we can all learn some very valuable lessons during this time and stop pointing so many fingers,” the nurse wrote on Facebook. “Maybe this will teach us to hold our loved ones a little tighter and call our grandparents a little more frequently. When this is over, I hope we enjoy the simple pleasures of brunch with friends and seeing new movies in theaters. We have no choice but to get through this one hour or day at a time. let’s try to start doing it with love.”


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