A quieter gathering but the same message: reopen New York fully and now

May 21, 2020

It lacked the large parade of vehicles circling Niagara Square while horns were blaring, but those showing up in downtown Buffalo this time sent the same message as one month ago: all businesses are essential and need reopening now.

An estimated 150 people gathered in Niagara Square, on a warm and sunny afternoon, some bearing signs while others brought flags. Noticeably absent were pro-President Trump and Confederate flags that some brought to the April 20 rally.

The signs offered messages including some critical of Governor Cuomo, some demanding an immediate reopening of churches and a few expressing concern for COVID vaccinations. Dean Anthony displayed one that read "Herd Immunity for Dumbies."

"When this started, I had to do my research and I found out that germ theory is just that. There another theory called Terrain Theory," he explained. "Viruses, under that theory, become very hard to spread. And they're relinquished by all of us experiencing everyone's antigens and developing an immunity, which destroys the virus. It happens every single flu season."

Anthony also expressed concern that a vaccine produced hastily will put a public at risk of seriously adverse effects.

Thursday's protest was actually the coalescence of multiple planned protests into a single event, explained Devon Rusinek of Buffalonians Against Excessive Quarantine. He wore a 43North t-shirt, stating his support for local startups. He told WBFO that the local economy, coming out of the pandemic, will create new opportunities and avenues for businesses including delivery services and online security.

When discussing the phasing in of selected segments of New York State's economy, Rusinek spoke of the earliest projections for hospitalizations and fatalities and suggested the preventive measures taken, earlier in the pandemic, were proper. But those higher projections were never realized and the numbers now, he believes, justifies a time and need to ease restrictions.

"It's important that we maintain some of the guidelines that were put out there by the CDC, but we also make sure to have they conform to a little bit of the way that our regions sort of work through them, so that they work to Buffalo standards," he said. "In the beginning, it made sense to put a lot of those measures out there, because especially given that this is our first time in 100 years or so that there's been a potential pandemic risk. But over time, as new data comes out that shows infection rates are higher and the mortality rate is lower, to start rolling back a lot of the measures that were initially put in place."

To some, keeping business closed by deeming them non-essential violates the principle of the pursuit of happiness. As Laurie Kostrzewski put it, all businesses are essential.

"When I see so many people being laid off and so many small businesses close, some may never open and some are lifetime," she said. "Businesses, family businesses, I've spoken to people who are afraid. They're very nervous that they will never open again. That is taking away the pursuit of happiness."

State Assemblyman David DiPietro says one small business that rented space in one of his properties recently informed him they were folding. He led a call to reopen not only businesses but places of worship, with no restrictions.

He was asked about concerns for a new rise in infections if the economy were to reopen too quickly.

"I say that's the biggest joke I've ever heard," he replied. "We flattened the curve. 'Flatten the curve' was to make sure we didn't overwhelm the healthcare system. Today is 38 straight days we've flattened the curve. We're laying off people at Kaleida and at the hospitals, doctors, furloughing nurses. For what? For nothing!

"Okay, we flattened the curve. We're way beyond that. That was a lie. That was a lie. Now it's 'find the cure,' now it's 'a vaccine,' now it's everything else. Just open up. That second wave is never going to happen. Mark my words."

DiPietro added that if there is a second wave, it will not be to the level feared by some, because people will know enough to socially distance and wear masks.

"I think our leaders need to give us more credit. We are responsible. We're responsible citizenry," Kostrzewski said. "If you are at risk, you know to be careful, and to quarantine. If you are healthy, you know how to take care of yourself, to wear a mask, to distance yourself. And when you go into businesses, you're going to respect what they want you to do, and that's how we open safely."

Those participating in the demonstration, though, weren't wearing masks.