Montpelier protest takes aim at stay-at-home order

Published: Apr. 21, 2020 at 5:16 PM EDT
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Over a dozen people turned out Wednesday morning in Montpelier to protest Gov. Phil Scott's stay-at-home order and push for a return to work.

Chris Richardson of Williston says he wants to see Vermont's economy back open. "I lost both my jobs basically overnight and I was like, how am I going to feed my kids?" he said.

He said he feels the financial toll on Vermont is worse than the coronavirus. "We can't afford to pay our bills as a state. I can't afford to pay my bills, but you can't afford to pay your bills to run your state," Richardson said.

His sentiments were echoed by some of the other 20 or so protesters who showed up who said they felt Vermont overreacted.

"The numbers don't match the response. And again, I'm not saying this virus is fake, because it's very real and unfortunately people are dying. But again, the death rate, the infection rate in Vermont doesn't match the response. And I think the economic hit that we're going to take is a lot worse than the virus itself," said Kevin Hoyt of Bennington.

Others, like Sarah Toscano of Hinesburg, said they wanted the protective measures to be a recommendation, not a mandate. "I'm perfectly fine with the voluntary social distancing. As you can see, I'm covered, keeping my germs to myself, but the fact that we need to be able to work, save what's left of our economy before we absolutely kill it," she said.

"There's no one more frustrated, more eager to get the economy going than me, but I'm going to continue to make decisions based on the science," Governor Phil Scott said Wednesday.

When asked about the protests outside, Scott said he is going to do what his team feels is best for all Vermonters, and indicated states like Georgia -- which are reopening -- may be doing so too quickly. "The pressure can't be the reason to do the wrong thing. And we have to continue to do what we think is right, regardless of the political ramifications," he said.

His view was shared by four Central Vermont Medical Center nurses who showed up to stage a small counterprotest, including ICU nurse Grace Breer. "This virus is very serious and very real. I've personally taken care of a couple patients with it and they're some of the sickest patients I've taken care of," she said. "I don't care how low the numbers are, we need to figure this out."

Governor Scott has said he hopes to be able to announce new measures for reopening businesses every Friday, but for the people protesting in Montpelier, that's not fast enough.

A new survey finds the overwhelming majority of Americans do not want to go back to work right now. The survey by The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds only 12-percent of Americans say measures to fight the outbreak where they live go too far.

Another 26-percent says the limits don’t go far enough, and 61-percent believe the steps taken to prevent infections in their area are about right.