LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
This week, President Trump told the nation's governors that they can call the shots on when to begin reopening their economies. In an unprecedented move, though, he then tweeted in support of far-right protests against COVID-19 restrictions imposed by three Democratic governors in swing states. NPR's Kirk Siegler has been tracking demonstrations around the country.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Eric Moutsos, a former police officer who now works in solar energy in Utah, says the economy has ground to a halt there in spite of it being one of the few states without statewide COVID-19 restrictions. In his business, sales in the region have virtually stopped. Also, projects that are in the pipeline are stalled, he says, because cities aren't sending out inspectors or issuing many permits.
ERIC MOUTSOS: So all of those jobs have completely stopped business to where we cannot be paid now.
SIEGLER: Moutsos says he feels for the people who are sick or have died from COVID-19. But he worries if these closures last much longer, there will be far worse consequences.
MOUTSOS: In my opinion, not being able to provide for your family is a hundred times bigger health crisis than any virus.
SIEGLER: Moutsos and an ad hoc Facebook group he formed called Utah Business Revival organized a protest Saturday in downtown Salt Lake City. It capped several days of protests in cities from the East Coast to Southern California.
MOUTSOS: Quarantine is for sick people. It's when you lock sick people away. But when you lock healthy people away, that's tyranny.
SIEGLER: That's a familiar argument for some of the groups behind these protests, including far-right militias here in the West. They're trying to organize opposition to these social distancing measures, claiming they're government intrusion. Hundreds turned out for a protest in central Oregon that was reportedly organized by the Pacific Patriots militia founder. And a similarly sized crowd protested this past week in front of the Minnesota governor's mansion.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) USA. USA. USA. USA.
SIEGLER: These crowds appear to be largely pro-Trump, who once called coronavirus a hoax. On a Facebook livestream from a protest in St. George, Utah, a local conservative talk radio host, Kate Dalley, questioned whether COVID-19 is really that big of a deal.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KATE DALLEY: Why ruin our lives to keep us safe? I vote virus. Give me a three-day virus. I'm totally cool with that. Just don't ruin my life to do it.
SIEGLER: It's not yet clear just how big of a phenomenon these protests really are. So far, protests like the one organized by the conspiracy website Infowars in Austin, Texas, have drawn a few hundred people at most. This is happening at a time when tens of millions of Americans are newly unemployed. A Pew Research Center poll last week shows two-thirds of Americans are concerned restrictions on public activity will be lifted too quickly.
ROB DAVIDSON: I do think it's a vocal minority who is out there having unbelievably risky mass gatherings to protest this.
SIEGLER: Dr. Rob Davidson is an emergency room physician in rural Michigan. He says there still isn't enough capacity to reopen large parts of the economy yet.
DAVIDSON: The concern is if you do it too soon, cases will start going up. You got to shut it down again. And long-term, it's going to have such a significantly negative impact on the economy far, far worse - and keeping it closed down a little bit longer.
SIEGLER: If the reopening is too quick, Davidson worries small hospitals like his, with 25 beds and one respiratory therapist, will be overwhelmed.
Kirk Siegler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.