'We disagree': Medical professionals counter coronavirus lockdown protesters

From Arizona to Virginia, health care workers tell protesters to "stay at home."

April 23, 2020, 7:38 PM

When Dr. Erich Bruhn, a recently retired surgeon from Virginia, saw images of nurses in scrubs standing in a Denver street this week blocking the cars of people circling the state capitol building to protest stay-at-home directives meant to blunt the spread of novel coronavirus, he and his wife, a nurse, say they were inspired to take a similar stand in their state.

So when anti-quarantine protesters demanding the economy be reopened staged a similar demonstration on Wednesday outside the Virginia state capitol building, Bruhn and his wife, Kristin, put on their white lab coats and protective masks and headed to Richmond with homemade signs reading, “You have no ‘right’ to put us all at risk. Go Home" and "Sign up here to die for the economy.”

“We wanted to go down there and just provide the alternative side and say, ‘Hey, you know this isn’t about freedom to go out. It’s about responsibilities to other citizens.’ Mostly we went there to just sort of say, ‘Hey, we disagree,'" Bruhn told ABC News. “I think that it’s too soon to open the country."

PHOTO: A demonstrator protesting against lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus argues with counter-demonstrators Dr. Erich Bruhn and former nurse Kristin Bruhn, during a rally calling for the reopening of the state in Richmond, Va., April 22, 2020.
A demonstrator protesting against lockdown measures in the wake of the coronavirus disease outbreak argues with counter-demonstrators Dr. Erich Bruhn and his wife, former nurse Kristin Bruhn, during a rally calling for the reopening of the state of Virginia in Richmond, Va., April 22, 2020.
Leah Millis/Reuters

Erich and Kristin Bruhn of Winchester, Virginia, are among the medical professionals who have turned out in recent days to counterprotest at anti-lockdown demonstrations across the nation, many of them frustrated that while they have been in hospitals trying to save the lives of coronavirus patients, people outside have taken to the streets to demonstrate against the one thing government experts say is helping to defeat the virus: orders to stay at home.

“My wife and I told countless people that we want the economy to open, too, but we think it's unsafe and I think if we do it too soon it’s going to be even worse," Bruhn said. “The other thing that we wanted to do was sort of convey to people that the enemy is, at least in our state, not Gov. Ralph Northam. It’s the virus."

Erich Bruhn, who was a major in the Air Force and served for 11 years, much of it as a doctor, said, "more than a few people sort of said, ‘You're fake news.’ "

"My wife and I got accused probably a dozen times of not really being medical professionals," he said.

A demonstrator gestures with a flag on a stick at counter-protester Dr. Erich Bruhn during a protest against measures put into place to limit the spread of coronavirus and call for the reopening of the state in Richmond, Va., April 22, 2020.
Leah Millis/Reuters

Maureen Casey, a registered nurse at Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, told ABC News that her concerns grew as she watched on TV a large anti-quarantine protest that was held outside the state capitol in Harrisburg on Monday, as she was quarantined in her home fighting what she believes to be the coronavirus.

“I actually got my test results back last week. They were negative, but the doctor believes it was a false-negative because the testing is not completely, 100% accurate," Casey said. "I still had all the symptoms all of last week. I’m starting to feel better today. It’s not that it was the flu because the flu gets better after five days, not worse after five days."

A health care worker stands in the street in counter-protest to hundreds of people who gathered at the Colorado State Capitol to demand the stay-at-home order be lifted in Denver, April 19, 2020.
Alyson Mcclaran via Reuters

As Casey watched the protest from her residence, she said her frustration grew as video footage showed protesters waving American flags and "Don't Tread on Me" banners, and slamming the economy-closing safety precautions against the virus as an act of "tyranny."

“You may be willing to risk your life and say 'I think I’m a tough person, I can take it.' But it’s not about you, it's about who you would expose for you to go to work," Casey said. “These people think it's a hoax or it's fake, or it's all made up. It's not.''

The protests in Harrisburg and Richmond followed a wave of similar demonstrations that started last week in Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky.

The protests have garnered the encouragement of President Donald Trump, who in a series of tweets on Friday appeared to condone demonstrators, many of them displaying re-elect Trump signs at rallies and disobeying rules intended to blunt the coronavirus primarily based on guidelines from the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Trump tweeted "LIBERATE MINNESOTA" and followed that with "LIBERATE MICHIGAN" and "LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It's under siege!"

“I just think that some of the governors have gotten carried away,” Trump said at a coronavirus briefing at the White House on Friday.

PHOTO: Alex Cummings, an ICU nurse at St. Louis University Hospital, stands in the middle of the street, blocking cars protesting the stay-at-home orders on April 21, 2020, in Clayton, Mo.
"To brazenly reopen the economy without all the facts is irresponsible. I feel opening the economy will kill more lives than save lives" said Alex Cummings, an ICU nurse at St. Louis University Hospital, who stands in the middle of the street blocking cars protesting the stay-at-home orders on April 21, 2020, in Clayton, Mo.
Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP

But at the protest in Harrisburg, many participants were clearly not wearing protective face masks nor adhering to social distancing rules of being at least six feet apart.

The event was organized by the groups Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine, ReOpen Pa and End The Lockdown PA. Like in other states, the groups are demanding the stay-at-home directives be lifted by May 1 for healthy citizens willing to continue enhanced hygienic habits.

“Government mandating sick people to stay home is called quarantine. However, the government mandating healthy citizens to stay home, forcing businesses and churches to close is called tyranny,” according to a statement released by the Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine.

Healthcare workers stand in counter-protest to drivers passing in front of the Arizona State Capitol in protest of Gov. Doug Ducey's stay-at-home order to combat the coronavirus, April 20, 2020.
Michael Chow/The Republic via USA Today Network

At a Reopen Arizona protest on Monday in Phoenix, images of nurses like Lauren Leander went viral online. The photos showed Leander, a critical care nurse at one of the COVID-19 units at Banner Health in Phoenix, and other nurses wearing scrubs and masks, standing with their arms folded in front of the Arizona capitol building as protesters attending a "Patriot's Day" rally verbally attacked them.

"The noise was deafening," Leander told ABC affiliate station KNXV-TV in Phoenix. "But we were there to be a voice for our patients and the immunocompromised and the people who are sick with COVID that would be out there fighting with us if they could asking people to follow the stay-at-home rules."

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