Health-care workers are the only people standing between everyday citizens and the novel coronavirus — even if those everyday citizens value their own personal freedom over things like public health, common sense or their own lives.
That dynamic was on full display in Denver, Colo., over the weekend, where the United States got its own bizarre Tiananmen Square-like photo moment — except instead of a protester standing up to a government tank, it was two health-care workers standing up to a “Land of the free”-loving couple in a truck.
Video and photos circulating online show two people in scrubs and masks blocking a crosswalk to stop a procession of far-right protesters en route to the state’s Capitol, where many of their ilk were already violating physical distancing rules to call for an end to the coronavirus lockdowns meant to slow the spread of the virus.
The two counter-protesters — a man and a woman — could be seen standing in the path of a large silver pickup truck on Sunday, refusing to budge while the vehicle’s occupants hurled a flurry of verbal abuse at them. A witness described them as “nurses” in his video, although their exact professions are unknown. They told another witness they were health-care workers.
“Go to China!” a middle-aged blonde woman in a U.S.A. shirt shouted at them from the pickup truck, while leaning out of the passenger’s window. “It’s a free country! America the free!” she declared, before slapping a sign reading “Land of the free” onto the windshield.
The two health-care workers did not move.
Videos and photos of the incident have circulated widely on the internet, where many have called it a perfect encapsulation of the anxiety and frustration emerging around the COVID-19 pandemic. The illness has killed more than 40,000 people in the United States alone, while lockdowns meant to slow its spread have tipped the world into a major recession. Many have become impatient with the lockdowns, although grouping up to protest those lockdowns appears to be a largely right-wing phenomenon at this point.
More than 12 million people have watched the Denver video on Twitter alone, where the angry woman has been dubbed “Karen” — an internet slang term for an irritating woman who demands to speak to the manager when she doesn’t get her way.
“The most un-American thing you can do is tell medical professionals who’re saving American lives to go to China,” Twitter user Michelle Sylvester wrote. “Bye Karen.”
“Here we see a racist Karen in her non-native habitat telling an Asian American nurse to ‘go to China,’” wrote Dr. Eugene Gu on Twitter. “Such fascinating yet peculiar behavior, since Karen may soon find herself in need of the nurse’s lifesaving care in the coming months.”
Another user described the woman as “COVID Karen,” adding: “This is America in one photo.”
The Colorado protest was one of more than a dozen across the United States over the weekend, where many conservative voices — including U.S. President Donald Trump — have urged Americans to defy scientist-recommended measures meant to keep everyone safe from the virus.
Trump appeared to turn the lockdown into another front in the U.S. culture war on Friday when he encouraged Americans to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia — three states with Democratic governors running their lockdowns.
Pro-Trump signs have been a common sight at these protests, including the one in Denver.
“These people love our country,” Trump said at his daily press briefing in Washington on Sunday, when asked about the right-wing protests. “They want to get back to work.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
—With files from Reuters