Limits on Crowd Size Don’t Apply to Protests

by Kerry Dougherty

“How is this fair?” Shannon Jones wants to know.

How is it that her grandfather’s funeral was forced – by order of the governor – to be almost a non-event while demonstrators and protestors violate Virginia’s 10-person crowd-size rules with absolute impunity?

I have no answer.

Perhaps someone will show this to Gov. Ralph Northam and he can explain why massive protests are safe but funerals, graduations, proms, weddings and Easter services were not.

Large gatherings either pose a threat to public health or they don’t. Placards do not provide immunity to the coronavirus. That’s science.

On April 4th Shannon’s beloved grandfather, 81-year-old Stanley Swain of Chesapeake, died at home of complications from COPD.

There were exactly eight people at his funeral a few days later. Music was from an iPhone.

Northam’s current stay-at-home order limits gatherings to just 10 people. Unfortunately, two funeral home workers counted into that equation, so only eight family members could be present. One of Mr. Swain’s elderly sisters had to sit outside the funeral home in a car.

His brothers from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 147, where he’d been an active member for 54 years, couldn’t pay their respects to the retired crane operator either.

Mr. Swain’s graveside service was also curtailed. The family knew that only eight of them would be allowed under the tent, but they’d figured more friends and family could come to the cemetery provided they stood six feet apart.

They were wrong.

Ms. Jones says the funeral director put the “kibosh” on that. He warned them that if more than 10 mourners gathered in Chesapeake Memorial Gardens the police would put a stop to it.

Fear of COVID-19, you know.

So there was no filled-to-capacity funeral, no eulogies, no hugs, no remembrances, no wake at the family home after the burial.

Just a spartan service on a sunny spring day.

Funerals serve a real purpose. There’s something therapeutic about the way we lay our loved ones to rest.

Stanley Swain. Dec. 30, 1938 – April 4, 2020.

The rituals offer comfort to the bereaved. So do the mourners who gather with the family to offer their condolences and share warm – and sometimes funny – remembrances about the deceased.

The music, the flowers, the eulogies, the prayers. These are the ways that we say farewell in most of America.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, many governors sharply limited gatherings believing that this would curb the spread of the virus. The unintended consequence of their orders? People in hospitals and nursing homes die alone. Then they’re buried in haste, without the ceremonies that comfort grieving families.

All right, this is a pandemic. People have been forced to make tremendous sacrifices. Many grumbled, but they complied.

So imagine Shannon Jones’ reaction when she watched the news this past week to see thousands of demonstrators marching shoulder to shoulder to protest the death of George Floyd, a black Minnesota man who was killed by a white police officer.

The marches had no social distancing. The huge gatherings were not interrupted by police telling the participants to disperse. No governors with bullhorns warned the protesters that they would kill vulnerable folks by their actions.

Even in Virginia, where the 10-person-limit is in effect until tomorrow when it grows to 50, the marches were massive.

Yet the national scolds – who’d lost their minds over scenes of spring breakers on the beach – were largely silent.

“It enraged me,” Ms. Jones said of the size of the demonstrations. “We couldn’t have people at a funeral  but protests can have as many people as they like?

“Where’s the consistency?” she wondered. “There is no consistency.”

Shannon Jones said that from the start she thought the lockdowns were excessive. But she and her family abided by the governor’s orders.

Now, she says, it’s clear that fears of the virus were exaggerated. How else to explain Northam’s sudden indifference to crowd size?

Shannon and her family have had a rough spring. They lost a loved one and couldn’t properly mourn his passing. Now they see that the draconian rules that prevented them from having a funeral don’t apply to thousands of other Virginians.

“He was my person,” Ms. Jones said softly of her grandfather. “It isn’t fair.”

She’s right. It isn’t.

This column was published originally at

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8 responses to “Limits on Crowd Size Don’t Apply to Protests”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Who ever said life was fair? Only a fool seeks consistency….This has been a tragic side effect, perhaps unneeded. Families can and I hope many will hold those gatherings later. My Dad’s Arlington ceremony was three months after his death, and the wait can be longer. My wife’s family delayed graveside memorial services until summer weather allowed for more distant attendees to come.

    I’ve mentioned before that I’m reading Richard Preston’s “Crisis in the Red Zone” about the 2014 Ebola epidemic, and a funeral service for a traditional healer was the key event in that outbreak. Their rituals involved the whole family preparing the body and then all the participants touching the body before burial. The funeral industry’s struggles with this deserve more recognition. But sure, a crowd standing spaced apart under the open sky around a sealed casket was never a thing to fear.

    1. VDOTyranny Avatar

      > Only a fool seeks consistency….

      Tell that to the protesters. It may be a fools errand to expect perfection, but I don’t think you should excuse inconsistency because it can’t be perfected. If you’re determined to regulate, they should apply equally… or not have them.

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Re: Arlington. Also had to wait a while for my parents.

  3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    It’s the F’ing hypocrisy. Northam is Fred Hiatt & Jacob Frey rolled up into one and wearing blackface.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    Didn’t see any crackdowns on the “open up now” protests either, though, right?

    Headlines in Fredericksburg this morning:

    “Four more COVID-19 outbreaks reported in Fredericksburg area health district

    The Rappahannock Area Health District on Wednesday reported four new outbreaks of COVID-19, the most for any one day, so far.

    Three occurred at workplaces—a restaurant, construction workplace and retail store—where four to six people at each location tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The fourth was at a long-term care facility where one resident and staff member had confirmed cases, according to Allison Balmes–John, spokesperson for the local health district.

    The new incidents bring to 12 the number of outbreaks in the local health district, which includes Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford. The Virginia Department of Health defines an outbreak as two or more cases involving the same person, place or time.”

    Do these businesses shut down voluntarily when they have an outbreak or are they forced to close and for how long?

    The Chick-fil-a that closed last week – is still closed.

    ” The Chick-fil-A in Central Park has been closed since Friday evening “to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” according to signs posted at the popular restaurant. Last week, its corporate office confirmed that one employee tested positive and that deep cleaning had taken place. But other businesses that have brought in companies to sanitize facilities shut down only for a day or a portion of it, not for several days on end.”

    is no one seeing closures like this in NoVa and Richmond?

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      In their cars….for the most part, driving around in their cars (honking those stupid horns.) Not the same, Larry. In other states there were thick crowds, agreed. But remember — they were regularly taunted then as “granny killlers.” As were the people on the beaches. “Granny killers.” Anybody who hurled that deserves to have it now force fed back.

      And no. not familiar with individual stores or restaurants that closed like that and stayed closed. Maybe, but if so no reports. The Kroger I frequent had a case or two that did make the paper but never closed. Individual owners and managers have their own decisions to make.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I just know the images I was seeing on TV, papers, online…in other cities… and while there were cars and horns there were also a lot of crowds…and no masks

        and yes, had they been arrested, all hell would have broken loose…

        right now – people have to distinguish between legitimate protestors – many of whom ARE wearing masks and bad actors who are infiltrating and using the legitimate protestors for “cover”.

        The police have caught on to this now – and the looting and firebombing are receding.

        That leaves the protestors who are mostly non-violent and wearing masks…

        This is all going to slowly die down unless there is yet another death at the hands of police caught on video…

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        I never saw the “granny killer” taunts… you must have been on one of those “dark” twitter sites… 😉

        here’s more panic-indusing info to add to the fray:

        Large global study affirms face masks reduce COVID-19 infection risk by 85 percent
        June 3, 2020

        A review of 172 studies on coronavirus transmission from 16 countries confirmed that wearing a face mask and maintaining physical distance significantly reduced the risk of spreading COVID-19. The first-of-its-kind study, funded by the World Health Organization and published Monday in the journal The Lancet, also attempted to quantify how much each measure cut transmission risks by itself.

        The risk of transmitting the new coronavirus without a mask or respirator is 17.4 percent, but with a mask that falls to 3.1 percent, the study found, though the researchers noted there’s a higher amount of uncertainty on mask wearing than physical distancing. Keeping a distance of less than 1 meter (3.3 feet) and no other protective measure carried a transmission risk of 12.8 percent, cut to 2.6 percent when the distance was more than 1 meter and even lower at 2 meters (6.6. feet). There was also a sharp cut in risk with eye protection.

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