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'We Want Our Freedoms Back,’ Protesters Call on Northam to Reopen Virginia

Protester in car
SLIDESHOW: Click through images. Protesters against COVID-19 business closures highlighted Sweden - a country which didn't close many businesses - as a 'better' model. In comparison to a neighbor that did close businesses, Denmark, Sweden has seen a much higher rate of COVID-19 deaths. They also focused on Gov. Northam's racist yearbook photo from 1984. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

*Editor's Note: In response to concerns about a statement made by one protester comparing flu and COVID-19, we've updated this story to include information from the Centers for Disease Control. The new coronavirus is believed to spread faster and preliminary data suggests it has a much higher mortality rate, according to the World Health Organization.

Protesters circled the Virginia State Capitol Wednesday demanding the government reopen the state, largely so they could get back to work. The rally took place as the legislature reconvened to make changes to the state budget in response to the outbreak.   

More than 100 people participated in the rally on foot, along with dozens of cars covered in messages that read “Let people get back to work” and "my body, my decision".

Social distancing was difficult as sidewalks became crowded. Many people were not wearing masks. 

“Enough is enough. We need our freedoms back. Our liberties,” Michelle Matts, of Richmond, said. Matts was interviewed through the passenger side window of her car. 

“We want to reopen the churches. We want to support the businesses,” she said. 

Non-essential businesses in Virginia have been closed for more than a month, and a stay-at-home order is set to remain in effect through June 10th. 

A man named Steven, from Virginia Beach, said he’s struggling to keep his home building company afloat during the pandemic. He didn’t want to give his last name. 

“If I lose my house and I lose my business, I’m worried for my family and everything else,” he said. “To me that’s worse than me, you know, catching the flu.”

The new coronavirus is not the flu, although many compare the two. While both illnesses are serious, there is a readily-available flu vaccine, and the coronavirus seems to have a much higher mortality rate. The Centers for Disease Control estimate 39 to 56 million flu cases in America this year, resulting in 24,000 to 62,000 deaths. Flu season typically ends in April. In comparison, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, COVID-19, has resulted in 49,963 deaths with less than 1 million cases. It also appears to spread faster, and tests and treatments for it are limited.

The rally was organized on social media by a group called Reopen Virginia.  The group claims that government projections about coronavirus have proven inaccurate. And they argue the cost of an economic shutdown outweigh the benefits. 

According to a recent statewide poll from VCU’s Center for Public Policy at the Wilder School, 76 percent of Virginians approve of the way Northam has been handling the pandemic.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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