Philadelphia City Hall

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Protesters plan to descend on Philadelphia City Hall on Friday to demand the city lift its shutdown orders and re-open the economy, despite public health experts warning it’s still too soon.

Posts circulating on social media call on “patriots” to attend the rally against the “unconstitutional” lockdown measures that have been in place to quell the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 72,000 people in the U.S. to date.

“Bring flags, banners, signs, drinks and friends,” one rally flier reads.

Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday the city was aware of the demonstrations.

His message to protesters: “Make sure you wear a mask. We’ll open when [Health Commissioner] Dr. Farley and other medical experts tell us it’s time to open.”

About half of all U.S. states have started to relax their guidelines around certain businesses, including Pennsylvania. But health experts insist a hasty return to normal life will lead to a second surge of coronavirus deaths just as numbers are starting to decline.

The demonstrations present their own safety issues.

A similar rally drew a packed crowd to the Capitol building in Harrisburg last month. Asked if the city would try to enforce its social distancing guidelines, Kenney said his understanding was that “the protest is going to take place inside vehicles.”

Cars are not mentioned in the online flier “drinks and friends,” but are part of the plan for a different “gridlock rally” set for the same day, according to the Inquirer.

Kenney attributed the protests’ inspiration to President Donald Trump, who has been broadcasting the nation’s readiness to reopen its economy despite the expert advice of epidemiologists.

While Trump has expressed support for protests, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Brix recently said the lack of social distancing at the rallies was “devastatingly worrisome.”

Re-opening timelines vary widely from state to state, with some moving faster than others. Data modeling — including the White House’s internal predictions — predict a sharp rise in cases and deaths when states rush to reopen.

Health Commissioner Farley on Wednesday refused to guess at a timeline for Philadelphia’s reopening, saying it depends on data about local and regional viral spread.

“We don’t want to take the position that seems to be emerging from the White House,” Kenney said. “Unless the data indicates that it’s safe, then it’s not safe.”

The mayor added: “We’re not going to sacrifice anybody intentionally.”

Max Marin (he/him) was Billy Penn's investigative reporter from 2018 to 2021. A graduate of Temple University, he has produced award-winning journalism on local politics, criminal justice, immigration...