When one group of Hermiston-area residents rallies on May 30 to protest restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, some essential workers those rules could help protect are planning to make their voices heard in counterprotest.
Deidre Torres is spearheading a demonstration she calls “Essential not Sacrificial” that will take place at noon on May 30, the same time as the “Hermiston Freedom Rally” protest downtown. Participants plan to meet in their vehicles in the Bi-Mart parking lot, displaying signs calling for a safe reopening plan, and drive through town in a socially distanced form of protest.
“We’ll be following the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines to protect people, prevent exposure and keep everyone safe,” she said.
Torres said she isn’t against reopening businesses again in some form, but she objects to ideas espoused by at least some organizers of Reopen Hermiston that businesses shouldn’t be required to follow safety rules, such as wearing masks, and that mass gatherings should start again immediately.
“I’m not necessarily against reopening, I’m just against a complete, unilateral reopening without a science-based plan,” she said.
She said she just wants to make sure that local government officials know that not everyone agrees that everything should be opened up now. She said many essential workers she knows are also worried not only about getting the virus, but also spreading it to others who are more vulnerable.
“Everyone has made sacrifices,” she said. “I’m not able to attend my little brother’s graduation ceremony. I’ve been quarantining for two months. I haven’t hugged my mother for two months.”
Rebecca Wallace Corff, who is helping Torres organize the event, said hospital workers are often “gagged” by privacy laws that don’t allow them to discuss details of what they have personally seen while treating COVID-19 patients. But as a hospital worker herself, what she can say is the things she has seen are enough to make her scared that people aren’t taking the virus seriously enough.
“It’s a horrible disease,” she said. “You don’t want to get it, and you don’t want your kids to get it.”
She said she hopes people will see the counterprotest and realize there is a “silent majority” that are in favor of practicing social distancing.
A Gallup poll published May 19 found that 54% of Americans were “very confident” social distancing measures saved lives, while 31% of respondents said they were “moderately confident.”
Wallace Corff said she understands that when human beings are scared, they retreat to a place of denial as a way to handle their fears. But she said if people don’t trust the government, she hopes they will trust doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who want everyone to be safe and healthy.
With dueling protests in Hermiston set for the same day, Essential not Sacrificial participants are encouraged to stay in their vehicles and not interact with protesters in either camp. A code of conduct for the event can be found on the Essential not Sacrificial Facebook page.