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Protesters slam California stay-at-home orders as ‘tyranny.’ But truth is more complex

A number of Trump supporters rally on Main Street in Huntington Beach against business closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

A group of more than 100 protesters demanded that California ease stay-at-home restrictions that have helped slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The demonstration Friday in Huntington Beach generated national headlines and come amid similar protests elsewhere in the country.

But they don’t necessarily represent the majority view. In fact, several polls have found wide support for the social-distancing rules despite the economic carnage they have caused.

Here is what we know.

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Polling

Ninety-five percent of respondents say they supported Los Angeles elected officials’ decision to implement a stay-at-home order for all but essential personnel, a Loyola Marymount University poll released last week found.

Those who identified as politically conservative tended to be more skeptical both of the stay-at-home orders and of the level of threat posed by the virus.

Kira Beattie, in white T-shirt, joins a rally against stay-at-home orders. A number of Trump supporters gathered on Main Street in Huntington Beach against business closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kira Beattie, in white T-shirt, joins a rally against stay-at-home orders. A number of Trump supporters gathered on Main Street in Huntington Beach against business closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
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Only 76% of them viewed the virus as a real threat, compared with 91% among liberals. Conservatives also saw themselves as less vulnerable, with 74% saying they worried they would catch the virus, compared with 85% of liberals.

The poll surveyed 2,000 households in Los Angeles County. It had a margin of error of 2.2%.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week also showed wide support for stay-at-home orders on a national level. “While most states have issued their own stay at home orders, 81 percent of voters say they would support a stay at home order on a national level,” the pollsters said.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that the vast majority of Americans would prefer to keep stay-at-home rules if the alternative meant more spread of the coronavirus.

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Protester voices

The protesters claimed the dangers of the coronavirus and benefits of social distancing are overblown, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

Benny White, a 33-year-old Compton resident dressed in a faux white hazmat suit with goggles and a Trump 2020 hat, bounced around from corner to corner, often drawing a sizable crowd. The suit had hand-written Sharpie messages that included the name of an extreme right-wing website and “China Lied People Died.”

White accused China of “constantly attacking our president.” White was also angry about social-distancing guidelines and hugged other protesters.

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“It’s not dangerous out here. It’s not,” White said. “I’ve seen plenty of people out here. The beaches are open. It’s a nice beautiful day. What are we doing? Stop being a germophobe.”

Some of the signs included:

“COVID-19 A test run at socialism”

“Liberate Huntington Beach”

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“OPEN CALI NOW”

“We deem our governor non-essential. Stop the tyranny”

“It’s time that California opens back up,” organizer Lisa Collins said. “We can’t [complain] about our freedoms and liberties being taken away if we aren’t willing to do something.”

“Now is the time,” she said. “We’ve complied ... It’s time for America to get back to work.”

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Expert voices

Both political leaders and health officials say stay-at-home orders have saved lives.

California’s relatively quick action to close businesses and order residents to stay home has tamped down the coronavirus pandemic and left many hospitals largely empty, waiting for a surge that has yet to come. California has seen far fewer deaths than New York and other coronavirus hot spots, and experts believe early social distancing was a big factor. Here is a breakdown of deaths:

New York 17,131
New Jersey 3,840
Michigan 2,227
California 1,057

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The initial success of the unprecedented shutdown of schools, businesses and other institutions has pleased experts and public health officials, prompting calls to keep the restrictions in place at least into May to help cement the progress.

Social distancing will be a critical factor. Lifting restrictions too early would likely lead to dangerous new jumps in coronavirus cases.

During the 1918 flu pandemic, more than 20 U.S. cities that relaxed physical distancing orders too quickly — even as the flu virus was still circulating — soon saw a new rise in cases. There will continue to be a threat of the coronavirus being reintroduced in areas where the outbreak has eased.

Campa is a Times staff writer. Sclafani writes for Times Community News.


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