An estimated 1,500 protesters gathered in downtown Madison just outside the Capitol building to protest Gov. Tony Evers’ extension of the ‘Safer-at-Home’ order Friday, despite recommendations from public health experts.
The protest, which had been viewed as a reaction by conservative Wisconsinites, featured President Donald Trump memorabilia, pictures of former Governor Scott Walker and openly carried firearms.
The gathering comes shortly after Wisconsin GOP lawmakers filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin's Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm — as well as other health officials — in order to repeal the stay-at-home order.
Protesters, some of whom had traveled several hours to attend the rally, voiced their disapproval of Evers’ quarantine measures, which are anticipated to have negative effects on Wisconsin’s economy, especially in relation to small businesses.
While 5,356 people have tested positive and 262 have passed away in Wisconsin from COVID-19, many protesters were upset places with fewer cases outside major cities still face the same economic restrictions as metropolitan areas. On Friday, Wisconsin saw the highest number of confirmed cases in one day with 304 new cases.
Jay Schroder, a speaker at the event, directly addressed Evers, expressing his frustrations.
“I have a message for you, Mr. Evers — Democrats and Republicans both own businesses. This event is bigger than politics, it’s about survival,” Schroder said.
Many demonstrators shared the belief the extension to the order has caused economic problems. Adrienne Elmer-Melby, one of the event’s organizers, said she hoped individuals could get the option of returning to regular economic procedures.
“I think in the meantime what would be best is to make some recommendations to the public rather than having this set of orders,” Elmer-Melby said. “I think we're at this crossroads, I have friends who are looking at losing their business and who may lose their house if they aren't able to get back to work soon.”
While it is difficult to know the exact financial difficulties the stay-at-home orders caused business owners, such as another protester Bob Tarantino, some claim small shops may never financially recover from the two months of economic stagnation.
Additionally, since March 14, more than 300,000 Wisconsin workers — about an eighth of the state’s workforce — have reportedly lost their jobs leading to a drastic climb in unemployment.
Evers has responded to previous criticisms upon initially announcing quarantine measures on March 24.
“Obviously, we want a strong economy, but we have to value human life at a higher level. I think we can do both, and that’s what this order is all about,” he said.
At the rally, several speakers also claimed the quarantine was more hazardous to the health of Wisconsinites than the COVID-19 virus.
Dr. Timothy Allen, who owns his own family practice in Cudahy, Wisconsin said the stay-at-home orders created an environment where non-COVID-19 related illnesses are not as effectively treated.
“Since quarantine has been implemented, I have had a substantial increase in the number of patients calling me because they have lost their job, they lost their insurance and they can’t afford their insulin or their asthma medication,” Allen said.
Dr. Allen also cited an article published by the New England Journal of Medicine published April 17 claiming the health impacts of quarantine will be proportional to that of COVID-19.
Despite the many protesters at the capitol, the majority of Americans — 60 percent in a national poll — disagree with the protesters. Twenty-two percent supported them.
A small contingent of counter-protesters also attended the rally, noting how this large gathering is likely to result in an increased number of infections.
“I think it’s dumb that people are congregating like this,” one counter-protester said. “It seems so counter-productive to me to have all these people gather and then probably further spread the disease across the state.”