Fewer than two dozen people showed up outside the Vermont Statehouse on Wednesday to protest Gov. Phil Scott’s order that shut down non-essential businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The meager turnout, held in unseasonably cold temperatures and driving snow, was a marked contrast to gatherings in states like Michigan and Texas, where large crowds of people, many of them supporters of President Donald Trump, have called on governors to reopen their economies.
In Montpelier, some protestors sported protective face masks, apparently following the guidelines recommended by state Health Commissioner Mark Levine.
One attendee, Mary Jo Harrington from Pownal, said shutting down non-essential business and asking people to remain in their homes, is a threat to civil liberties. And, her fellow Vermonters don’t get it, she said.
“I don’t want to live like that,” she said. “I don’t know of anybody that really gets it, they’re not understanding it. If they actually understood what was happening and what was going on, then they would literally go, ‘Whoa wait a minute, I don’t want to live like that.'”
H. Brooke Paige, who ran unsuccessfully for six statewide offices in 2018, including attorney general and the U.S. Senate, said Scott and state officials are unnecessarily fearful.
“Let the science drive all this,” he said. “Don’t let the fear and panic, which is what we’ve let drive it up to this point, send us all scurried and basically wrecking the economy nationwide but certainly here in Vermont.”
Among the counterprotestors was a group of health care workers. Gen Cipolla, a registered nurse at Central Vermont Medical Center, said the state’s mitigation efforts are the only way to “flatten the curve” and contain the virus. “The longer people are out and about, the worse this is going to get,” she said.
Sydnee Boucher, also a CVMC nurse, said returning to business as usual too soon could force some hard choices on hospitals and health care providers.
“This is only making sure that hospitals can take care of the patients that we do have, and not be overwhelmed,” she said. “We do not want to choose whether you get a ventilator or you don’t get a ventilator.”
Meanwhile, at a news briefing inside the Statehouse, Scott expressed sympathy for people who have been hurt economically by the virus. But he plans to stay the course and keep the State of Emergency, including the stay-at-home directive, in place until at least May 15.
“I’m going to continue to make decisions based on the science and what I think is best for Vermont as a whole and the health of Vermonters,” he said.