A large group of residents marched up Grant Avenue in Novato on Friday to call for the full reopening of the local and state economies.
Many demonstrators were carrying American flags or signs with phrases such as “All Jobs Are Essential,” “Reopen CA Now,” “Corona Fraud” and promoting the website WeHaveRights.com, which has been involved in organizing similar demonstrations throughout the state. Some were wearing masks, and many were not practicing social-distancing recommendations by standing less than 6 feet apart.
“I don’t have a brick-and-mortar on Main Street, but I have a main street concern for each and every brick-and-mortar and for everybody who has lost a job or livelihood and may never get it back, frankly,” said demonstrator and organizer Melanie Morgan of Novato.
Local public health officials say fully reopening normal operations too early would be ignoring high coronavirus infection rates occurring in the Bay Area that would put residents at unnecessary risk of infection.
This was the third such demonstration in Novato in the past few weeks. Morgan, a former talk radio host and local independent television producer, argues that the shelter-in-place order has worked to flatten the curve of infection rates and that continuing to keep businesses closed will result in the “collapse of our economy unless we reopen in every state.”
“With those facts being known, why are we keeping Marin County shut down?” Morgan said. “Why are we robbing people of their essential livelihood? My deep, deep concern is the social issues that are going to result from this lockdown are going to be taking the lives of more people than the virus itself.”
While retail has been allowed to begin curbside pickup as of Monday, Morgan argues that a full reopening is needed to give businesses a chance of survival. The risk of infection is low, she argues, and the caution of the county’s public health officer, Dr. Matt Willis, is “not merited.”
Willis said it’s a misunderstanding if people think that Marin’s infection rate is lower than that of the state. Compared to other counties in the state, Marin is located within one of the state’s coronavirus hotspots and is among the top 20 counties in terms of total infections and within the top 10 for mortality rates, Willis said.
The county has recorded 369 cases of the coronavirus, 14 deaths and 50 hospitalizations since March.
“We will move forward as quickly as we can and to do so safely,” Willis said of reopening more businesses and activities. “I think we all share the goal of restoring our economy, getting back to the social interactions that we all miss and getting kids back into school. All of these are so important, but right now the threat of COVID-19 is very present and very real.”
The number of infections continues to rise, with the county seeing its second-largest spike in new cases on Sunday with 18 new cases.
“I think people need to understand that we can’t have it both ways,” Willis said. “We can’t just reopen and expect no surges in cases because the virus is even more present in our community than it was when we initiated the ‘shelter in place.’”
As for social impacts of the order on residents’ health and mortality, Willis said there hasn’t been data showing any changes to death rates for all causes of death from before and during the shelter-in-place period.
Other demonstrators, such as Novato resident Vanessa Parvin, said they are concerned that the county’s middle-class sector becoming irreversibly impacted by an extended closure. Parvin and Morgan both state that the elderly and other high-risk people should still practice social-distancing measures, but that businesses should be able to open otherwise.
“It’s sad people are going to die either way,” Parvin said. “The virus is here. It’s horrible, but that doesn’t mean that people who aren’t compromised and people who are healthy should be deprived of their God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Willis said there is no way to put a firewall between the elderly and at-risk population and the rest of the community. Reopening too quickly would “be putting ourselves and our more vulnerable community members at risk unnecessarily,” Willis said.
Although the state is loosening restrictions, Willis said the county needs to base its own decisions on the local data and risk factors. If residents continue to practice social distancing, get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been around someone who has, wash their hands frequently and practice good hygiene, it will allow the county to reopen business more quickly, Willis said.
Similar demonstrations have taken place in San Rafael in recent weeks, said San Rafael police Lt. Dan Fink.
“We’ve had no issues with them and we’ve been pretty proud of the community specifically here in San Rafael in how they have been reacting to this pandemic,” Fink said.
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Author: Will Houston