Do protesters’ rights supersede social distancing safeguards?

    After months of people largely staying apart, millions have gathered around the country in an ongoing series of protests against police brutality and systemic racism. And while government and health officials previously urged residents to practice social distancing, Governing reports that many are now supporting the protest gatherings. 

    “Asking people to choose between their rights and demands for justice and their health is not a choice we need to ask of people,” Andy Slavitt, a former top health official in the Obama administration and government adviser, said via Twitter. “Going to a protest doesn’t mean people are throwing caution to the wind.”

    Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who implemented some of the most restrictive policies for preventing the spread of COVID-19, is one of the government officials who has expressed support for the protests over the past week. He notes there’s a difference between protesting for businesses to reopen and protesting police brutality. 

    “It’s one thing to protest what day nail salons are opening and it’s another to come out in peaceful protest, overwhelmingly, about somebody who was murdered right before our eyes,” Murphy said Monday. 

    It’s a head-spinning shock to skeptics of the stay-at-home approach. For weeks, people who argued that some activities needed to continue despite the health risks were described as “selfish” or even “evil.” Now, they see progressives flooding the streets and wonder why public health officials aren’t demanding that they go home.

    “The protests have exposed the absurdity of the continued lockdowns,” writes New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz. “It’s either a public health emergency and crowds must be stopped or it’s not. It cannot be both.”

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